Skeena BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross hosted a public forum in Terrace Oct. 3, bringing a variety of people together to share opinions and experiences concerning the recent decline in the forestry industry.
Industry representatives, citizens, logging contractors and politicians, including Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc and Nechako Lakes BC Liberal MLA John Rustad, his party’s forestry critic, gathered around tables to talk about the complexities, challenges and possible solutions.
Each table then presented their findings to the entire room.
“People were willing to talk honestly about what they see going wrong today, what they’ve seen go wrong in the last 10, 20 years. It was an incredible forum,” Ross says.
“If you try and put together a group of politicians in one room to try and fix this problem, you’re in trouble. You need people that understand the issues if you want to fix it.”
It’s been a rough year for Western Canada’s lumber producers with a series of sawmills either facing complete closures or temporary shutdowns.
Given the complexities of the challenges facing B.C.’s forestry sector, Ross noted there is no right and wrong answer when talking about a long-term plan, but it’s clear something needs to change.
“Can we not find some middle ground? The best story I heard was how Sweden is actually doing better than B.C. in terms of forestry. Yet we’re the same size land base, the same size supply,” Ross says.
Sweden’s annual tree growth in managed forests is well over double that in B.C., according to a 2018 report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Ross says he will advocate for the province to establish a long-term plan to ensure forestry is sustainable for decades to come.
“Sweden made the decision 30 years ago for a long-term plan. In the beginning there was some pain, but now they’re reaping the benefits.”
There are a lot of different factors as to why logging is so expensive in B.C., including the province’s mountainous terrain.
But the overall cost structure of forestry in B.C. compared to competitors like Alberta and the United States is high, Ross says, pointing to the province’s high stumpage fees, the money government charges to industry to log on public land.
“I don’t get the stumpage rate. Stumpage rates are flexible in other jurisdictions that reflect the economy, the market, and everything else. But in B.C., we don’t. I don’t see why,” Ross says.
Some forestry practices can be fixed, but there should also be additional business incentives as well to support contractors and the loggers themselves, Ross says. When a sawmill closes or takes downtime, the impacts aren’t just being felt by mill workers.
“There’s even some specific solutions brought up by contractors, around the depreciation of the write off for their equipment. We should be able to write this off a lot quicker,” he says.
“The guy that goes out there to buy a logging truck, and he’s spending $150,000 to buy the truck, plus he’s trying to pay down his house and put food on the table … why don’t we make it easier for him to pay off his bills?”
Figuring out a simple solution won’t be easy, Ross says, but the current way B.C.’s forestry sector operates is not flexible enough to work today.
“Over the past year, a number of companies have come to me to say they’d love to set up a plant in Terrace. But the climate’s not right — taxes are too high, land prices are too high, there’s too much red tape. If we had one modular building facility to manufacture buildings here, how could we guarantee that facility a supply of wood?” Ross says, noting a lot of businesses in Terrace depend on export markets.
“It’s going to take new thinking around what we do with forestry for the next 50 years. With existing regulations and policies, it’s already complicated. How do we make it easier for average citizens to understand, and more importantly, how do we get the forestry industry to survive?”