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Environmentalists stand in solidarity with BC mill workers as mills experience shutdowns and shift reductions due to log shortages

Ancient Forest Alliance Media Release, September 13, 2017

Environmentalists stand in solidarity with BC mill workers as mills experience shutdowns and shift reductions due to log shortages
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Photo by TJ Watt


VANCOUVER ISLAND, BC – Today at noon the Ancient Forest Alliance will join members of the Public and Private Workers of Canada (formerly the Pulp, Paper, and Woodworkers of Canada) (PPWC at www.PPWC.ca) as they rally at their Long Hoh mill in Errington (at 1125 Clark Road between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni off Highway 4, from 12:00 noon to 1:00 pm) on Vancouver Island in protest of raw log exports following the shut down and shift reductions in the mill since last month, with another shutdown and major shift reductions pending this week for their Ladysmith mill, due to a shortage of logs. In total about 130 workers could be affected by the closures and shift reductions.

Long Hoh Enterprise’s specialty mill was forced to shutdown or run reduced operations on some days since August, due to a log supply shortage, leaving 50 mill workers negatively affected.  Workers at the Ladysmith sawmill, also unionized by the PPWC and which processes smaller diameter hemlock and Douglas-fir logs, is also expected to stop most production due to a log shortage, affecting a maximum of 85 workers.  
 
Wednesday’s rally at the Long Hoh mill in Errington is aimed at raising awareness on the impact of exporting vast amounts of raw, unprocessed logs cut in BC to foreign mills in the USA, China, Japan, and Korea on BC’s coastal mill workers, undermining existing and potential wood processing jobs in BC. While a slow-down in logging occurred recently due to the fire hazard (although coastal logging continued in the west coast “fog zone”), at the same time a large amount of raw logs have been exported to foreign mills – but which could have been processed in BC mills to offset the impacts of the logging slow-down.
 
“These mill shutdowns are a red flag that the new BC government must have the courage to address,” said Arnold Bercov, President of the PPWC. “Log shortages are forcing mills to close their doors while at the same time raw logs are loaded onto ships and exported to foreign markets. And what’s worse is that repeated mill shutdowns contribute to eventual permanent mill closures.”
 
“With all the raw logs being exported, we could instead be building new mills and value-added facilities with those logs here in BC. That’s why we’re coming together today - to ask the BC government to take action with new policies to restrict log exports and to support wood processing in BC before more existing and potential jobs are lost,” said Cam Shiell, Forestry Officer with the PPWC.
 
The AFA’s Ken Wu has been working with the PPWC (formally the Pulp and Paper Workers of Canada), which represents thousands of BC forestry workers, to end raw log exports for the past 15 years, and more recently, to end old-growth logging on Vancouver Island. In March, the PPWC passed a resolution calling on the BC government to end the logging of Vancouver Island’s old-growth forests, while ensuring a sustainable, value-added second-growth forest industry, an end to raw log exports, and support for First Nations sustainable economic development. 75% of Vancouver Island’s productive forest lands are second-growth forests already, including over 90% of the high productivity forests.
 
The AFA hopes to work with the new NDP government on policies to ensure a sustainable forestry industry that supports value-added jobs from second-growth stands while protecting endangered old-growth forests at the same time. 
 
“We are interested to hear what the new government’s policies are and what actions they will take to restrict raw log exports and to promote wood processing in BC,” stated Andrea Inness, Forest Campaigner with the Ancient Forest Alliance. “We have presented the NDP government with a list of policy recommendations that will help ensure a sustainable, value-added, second-growth forestry industry in BC and we look forward to working with them to turn these recommendations into tangible results.”
 
The recommendations include increasing the log exports tax on second-growth raw logs to curb their export and to encourage domestic processing, banning old-growth raw log exports, creating financial incentives for investment in second-growth mills (for example, by reducing stumpage fees for tenure holders who invest in new second-growth mills or exempting the PST on the purchase of second-growth wood processing equipment in mills), and facilitating the marketing of eco-certified, value-added, second-growth wood products using a portion of stumpage fees.
 
“We need to do more with less. We need to make sure that every second-growth tree cut down in BC is processed in BC to create more jobs here, while the province protects our endangered old-growth forests. That way, we can save old-growth forests while employing more British Columbians in the second-growth wood processing sector. Increasing raw log exports of both old-growth and second-growth logs is taking us in the opposite direction – it’s doing less with more. We are losing both our forests and our jobs.” stated Ken Wu, Executive Director of the Ancient Forest Alliance. “That is, in order to protect our endangered old-growth forests while sustaining forestry employment levels simultaneously, the province must ensure that instead of raw log exports to foreign mills, that those logs are processed in BC mills – and that concrete regulations and incentives are put in place to ensure that this happens,”
 
In its campaign platform, the BC NDP promised to “work with industry, local governments and First Nations to expand wood manufacturing capacity and create new jobs” and to “find fair and lasting solutions that keep more logs in BC for processing.”
 
The PPWC and AFA wants to see these commitments fulfilled soon.
 
Background
 
Since 2013, nearly 26 million cubic metres of raw logs valued at more than $3 billion were shipped from B.C to foreign mills in China, the USA, Japan, Korea, and other nations. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the nearly 6.3 million cubic metres exported from B.C. in 2016 is enough wood to build 134,000 houses - roughly half of Vancouver’s single-family housing stock. Using a conservative estimate, more than 3,600 B.C. workers could have been employed processing that wood.
 
Over the past couple decades, more than 100 B.C. mills have closed and 40,000 forestry jobs lost. As old-growth stands are depleted and harvesting shifts to the second-growth, B.C.’s forestry jobs are being exported as raw logs to foreign mills due to a failure to retool old-growth mills to handle the smaller second-growth logs and invest in related manufacturing facilities.
 
At its core, the massive export of raw logs has been driven by a combination of the BC Liberal government’s deregulation of the forest industry and by the industry’s unsustainable depletion of the biggest best old-growth trees at the lower elevations.
 
The overcutting of the prime stands of old-growth redcedars, Douglas-firs and Sitka spruce in the lowlands that historically built the wealth of the forest industry – and for which coastal sawmills were originally built to process - has resulted in diminishing returns as the trees get smaller, lower in value, different in species, and harder to reach high up the mountainsides and in the valley headwaters. Today, more than 90 per cent of the most productive old-growth forests in the valley bottoms on B.C.’s southern coast are gone.
 
Coastal mills generally haven’t been retooled to handle the changing profile of the forest with smaller trees as the lowland ancient forests have been depleted.  At a critical juncture in 2003, the BC Liberal government removed the local milling requirements (through the Forestry Revitalization Act), allowing tenured logging companies to shut down their mills instead of being forced to retool them to handle the changing forest profile. This allowed the companies to then export the unprocessed logs to foreign countries.
 
The logging industry’s and the previous BC Liberal government's spin that logs must first be offered to BC mills before they can be exported, a policy known as the "surplus test", was considered by many to be a disingenuous PR-line. Ex-premiers Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark had facilitated the closure of most coastal mills in BC during their 16 year reign by removing the local milling requirement of logging companies, while failing to enact any major incentives or regulations in its place to attract new manufacturing investments. Given that they helped to shut down most of the mills, of course most log exports became surplus to the domestic milling capacity. However, many existing BC mills continue to need domestic logs that are intended for export. Unfortunately, many are hesitant to bid on the logs for fear of being cut out of future, long-term direct sales agreements with the same logging companies (ie. most mills require a secure log supply through direct contracts with logging companies. That is, bidding on raw logs is a secondary source of logs to direct sales contracts – and it is potentially risky, as it could jeopardize their relationship with one of the few major companies with logging rights on Crown lands. “There are loopholes in the system big enough to steer a log barge through,” stated Ken Wu, the AFA’s executive director.


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