Some of the discussions around the softwood lumber dispute can be challenging even for the people involved with forestry most of their lives.
In a recent discussion with Russ Cameron president of Independent Wood Producers Association (IWPA), I was having trouble understanding the many facets of this dispute.
We concluded that it is necessary to focus on issues that most people could relate to. Our conclusion was that the increasing export of raw logs from Crown land is a good indicator.
Most people that I have talked to regardless of their political leaning agree this practice is wrong and benefits only a few companies.
Not only has the export increased significantly during the last decade but most of the increase has come from Crown land.
According to Ben Parfait there was 6.3 million cubic meters of logs exported in 2016 (a record amount) and that is equivalent to 3,600 jobs.
The government supports the export companies by saying the logs are offered to locals before shipping. Most people don’t accept this rational since they know that these logs could have been milled here if the companies controlling the logs had not chosen to close many of the coastal mills.
It is true that logs can be blocked from export on a boom by boom basis by making a legitimate offer on them, but blocking logs a boom at a time doesn’t provide the security of supply necessary to build a new mill.
Western Forest Products now has control of 50 per cent more of the B.C. Public’s timber than they have mills to cut it in.
So they export much of the excess. This excess public timber needs to be taken away from them and given to someone who will build a mill or two. Or, in the unlikely event that the public decided they wanted to export the logs anyway, the profits should go to the true owners of the logs instead of to WFP’s shareholders.
The hypocrisy involved in exporting our logs to the Americans cannot be overstated.
How can the Americans accuse us of subsidizing our logs and apply duties to our lumber “to level the playing field” when they are quite willing to buy our “subsidized” logs duty free? How can the B.C. government allow that? If the American’s want a level playing field, the B.C. government can assist them in achieving that by applying an export tax to logs that is equivalent to the duties they apply to our lumber.
The IWPA represents B.C.’s non-tenured wood processors. It is bad enough that the IWPA members have to pay duties designed to compensate for the “alleged” subsidy provided by the administrative pricing of the tenure holder’s timber, but they will also be subjected to retroactive duties on lumber already shipped to the U.S.
The term used is “Critical Circumstances” and applies to lumber shipped 90 days prior to May 1, 2017.
Many of these companies won’t have the resources to come up with this retro cash and Mr. Cameron feels some will go out of business as has happened in the past. For example, since the forest policy changes of 2003, 54 of 107 IWPA members have had to close their doors primarily due to the consolidation of “Big Lumber” and due to being taxed for employing British Columbians to add value to BC grown wood fibre in BC.
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.