For now, log exports put food on the table

Due to our decadent timber supply and high cost of production, we had lost our primary breakdown facilities over the past decade or so.

By Bill Sauer

In B.C. there is about 65 to 70 million cubic metres of timber harvested in most years.   In the last few years about 2.5 million cubic metres (3.6%) has been exported as raw logs from public forest lands, primarily to Asia.  It is a well known fact that without the Asian market, specifically China, very limited harvesting activity would be happening in our region.  No activity translates to no jobs.

Due to our decadent timber supply and high cost of production, we had lost our primary breakdown facilities over the past decade or so.

That is beginning to change with actual Chinese investment dollars coming to the Northwest.  In July of 2011 ROC Holdings, a massive Chinese construction conglomerate announced the purchase of Skeena Sawmills, TFL #41 (122,000 cubic meters/year and now just increased to 128,000 cubic metres), the Kalum TSA (26,000 cubic meters/year) and the Nass TSA (162,000 cubic meters/year) from West Fraser Ltd.

The mill and woodlands offices are open and partially staffed.  They are reviewing their forest stewardship plan and doing maintenance on a sawmill that has been shut down for 3 years.  According to Woodlands Manager, Robert Ziegler, they hope to begin logging by 2012 and operating the mill at some capacity.  “We have to crawl before we can walk and walk before we can run”, states Ziegler.

Canada Resurgence Development Ltd. is another Chinese Company that has invested in the area.  It purchased the Buffalo Head Licence (292,000 cubic meters/year) in the Meziadin area and is exporting logs.  It operates a log debarker and sort yard.  More recently the Company purchased its own logging equipment to do the harvesting.  This gives further reassurance that these companies are here for the long haul, investing in our economy and putting people to work.  In the words of one NWLA Director “It is nice to see some skin in the game”.

Coast Tsimshian Resources, the company owned by Lax Kw’alaams First Nation of Port Simpson, bought the Tree Farm Licence No. 1 from the bankrupt remains of Skeena Cellulose/New Skeena Forest Products.  Coast Tsimshian, in 2008, was the first BC aboriginal forest company to open a sales office in Beijing so as to be in a better position to cultivate sales.  Coast Tsimshian has built a $100 million business from selling logs to foreign and domestic users and now wishes to invest $40 million into a specialty sawmill and a pellet mill to utilize the residue.  The NWLA is eagerly anticipating and welcoming the growth in our economy and see this as a direct benefit of exporting of logs to China.

Two additional First Nations bands, Kitsumkalum and Kitselas are involved in forestry operations through their respective companies, Kalum Ventures Ltd, and Kitselas Forest Products Ltd.  The awarding of licences to these bands from the undercut in the area would be without value, and jobs,  if the OIC for log exports in our area did not exist.

While the upswing in the forest sector in our area continues we must remind ourselves that we are currently harvesting only half our AAC.  If we ramp up production we will not have the workers to meet the increased capacity required.  We are suffering from a shortage of skill-specific workers in B.C.  The Provincial forestry related associations are currently working together to access funding and training for our sector.

While the export debate rages on, we here in the Northwest are grateful that opportunities and jobs have been created and that we are beginning to see the investment dollars.

Although having the logs manufactured locally would have been preferable, without any export capabilities, no one here in the Northwest would have been working in the forest industry.

If B.C. and Canada had slammed the door to log exports to Asia there would not be a working relationship and trust between the two nations in the forest industry, laying the groundwork for current Chinese investment in our area.

We could still be waiting for the phantom North American investor to appear.  If the log export debate is truly about jobs, we have some, and expect many more on the horizon, leaving nothing, in my opinion, to debate.

Bill Sauer is the executive director of the Northwest Loggers Association in Terrace, BC