COLUMN: Restoring forestry in B.C.

Jim Hilton’s weekly installment for Forest Ink

Jim Hilton

Jim Hilton

Special to the Tribune

The extended title of an article by Bob Williams, is “The story of the industry’s decline and the case for regional management,” January 2018.

Mr. Williams describes his forestry experience in the introduction and his final statement gives a good idea of what is to come in his report.

“It is now all gone, replaced by absentee corporations, a distant and computerized government and financialization of everything. I felt it was time to catalogue this decline and sketch out new hope for the future,” Williams wrote.

Williams has held senior provincial government positions with the NDP governments in the 1970s as Minister of Forests and in the 1990s as Deputy Minister of Crown Corporations.

The paper is in two parts: first, the decline of forestry in B.C. and, second, a new way forward.

In part one the author lists some statistics like the reduced percentage of forests as a percentage of GDP, reduced people employed in forestry and reduced forest revenue.

A 2001 report done in Ontario had B.C. last in all categories in a review of the value added forest industry in Canada and Denmark.

The loss of sawmills is described in detail especially on the coast where the reduced numbers were off-set by the closure of the high-cost mills.

The survivors had better cost structures and increased output but there is a concern with the increased shipment of raw logs due mainly to lack of investment in more modern milling facilities. The 2012 Auditor General Audit was also discussed.

“The report left the unmistakable impression that our forest policies are hopelessly flawed and both ill defined and ill measured. Over the years we have consciously lowered the bar for management, measurement and reporting of this great public resource,” Williams said.

Williams also devotes some space comparing Sweden to B.C.

According to the paper, Sweden has an equivalent area of forest but gets twice the growth that we do. Intensively stocking sites and thinning two or three times during several rotations allows Sweden to produce 30 per cent of its annual cut through tree thinning operations. In contrast most of us are aware of the amount of wood wastefully burned in our cull piles.

Another interesting insight was provided by the 1990s Forest Resource Commission led by Sandy Peel.

The commission concluded that stumpage fees are not capturing the full value of the resource.

“In fact the private transactions produce an asset value more than four times higher than that found for stumpage. This suggests that industry is capturing a much higher value from the forest than is the government.”

Williams’ take on this is that companies have largely replaced the forest ministry and collect much of the true value of our forests when those assets are sold, new entrepreneurial human capital is lost, there is little interest in moving to value-added, noting research is costly and risky, and there’s already a decent or handsome return in just being a landlord.

He also said corporations have little interest in long-term forestry/silviculture.

The 33-page report also has examples of problems with the tenure system and the author describes some local tenures which he considers a better alternative.

So as not to end on negative note the author proposes four changes as follows:

A legislature that is fully informed about the status of our public resource, a non partisan “forester general” who reports to the house annually, regional committees that also report to the house and finally a “forestry charter” that will create value and jobs while protecting and preserving the public resource.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

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