Log sales to China have increased, but lumber sales to all three countries are much more valuable.

Forest policies need to add up

China is buying a lot more lumber than logs

We’ll hear a lot of talk about “raw logs” in the next few weeks, as B.C. political parties position themselves for the May 9 vote.

“Raw logs” is the emotional buzzword designed to bring the issue down to the bumper-sticker level of modern political debate. NDP politicians denounce the BC Liberals for presiding over a “500 per cent” increase in log, sorry, “raw log” exports, as sawmills have closed.

The BC Liberals respond that more jobs would be lost if further restrictions were put on log exports, the NDP doesn’t care about loggers, and so forth.

Fortunately, BC Stats has just produced its annual export trade figures, for all commodities including logs and lumber. They tell more of the story.

There has indeed been a steep increase in log exports to China, from next to nothing in 2007 to more than $400 million by value in 2016. Log exports to the U.S. declined 10 years ago and have ticked along at about $50 million a year since.

Log export value to Japan is consistently three times that of the U.S. in the past decade, which makes sense when you consider that Japan is the most finicky wood importer in the world. They particularly like our coastal red cedar, and pay handsomely for it, in log or lumber form.

Looking at export figures for sawn lumber, you begin to see that log exports are mostly a political sideshow. (See chart below.) The U.S., China and Japan are B.C.’s leading customers here as well, with lumber value running as much as 10 times log value in a given year.

Lumber exports to China climbed from minimal to nearly $1.5 billion a year by 2014, helping to keep B.C. sawmills running after the collapse of the U.S. housing market. As the U.S. has recovered, and the expiry of its border restrictions has created a fragile window of free trade in lumber, B.C. exports south have soared, reaching more than $4.5 billion in 2016.

Japan remains a steady and vital premium lumber customer, with export values of around $800 million annually. Note that lumber sales to Japan alone are worth as much as B.C.’s total log exports to the world.

China’s emergence as a major wood customer follows expensive marketing efforts over many years by the forest industry, the federal government and B.C. Now that our exports south are under threat again, Asia becomes more important than ever.

The BC Liberals say much of the increase in log exports is from remote locations with no mill option available. That’s places like the Great Bear Rainforest, where logging continues under new rules.

Economists will tell you that as with many industries, more jobs have been lost from new technology, in the bush and in the mill, than from log exports.

The BC Green Party has announced it would extend carbon tax to slash pile burning, to force logging companies to sell wood waste for pellets or other uses.

The forests ministry already does this by policy, applied only to locations where it can be economically done. It’s required when there is “clear demand” such as a pellet plant, where businesses would generally make the deal without government instruction.

David Elstone, executive director of the Truck Loggers’ Association, notes that slash is piled and burned to prepare sites for mandatory replanting. He argues the forest industry should get a break from carbon tax on fuel, since wood structures and products sequester carbon for longer than natural forests, where wood rots and releases carbon dioxide back the atmosphere.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

B.C. BUDGET: Surplus $374 million after bailouts of BC Hydro, ICBC

Growth projected stronger in 2020, Finance Minister Carole James says

Realtors hope that their help can make miracles happen for sick kids

Re/Max of Nanaimo donates $86,000 to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals

Young Nanaimo dancers to appear on NBC program ‘World of Dance’

Jacksun Fryer, 15, and Deeya Sharma, 12, among those competing for $1 million

Vancouver Island’s 10 worst intersections revealed

Saanich, Victoria, Nanaimo, Duncan and Langford junctions make the list

Nanaimo RCMP share road trip tales from Bear’s cross-Canada adventure

Nanaimo RCMP Bear makes it to Grey Cup and Irish pubs en route to Newfoundland

VIDEO: 8 things you need to know about the 2019 B.C. budget

Surplus of $247 million with spending on children, affordability and infrastructure

‘Bullet missed me by an inch’: Man recounts friend’s killing at Kamloops hotel

Penticton man witnessed Summerland resident Rex Gill’s murder in Kamloops

B.C. BUDGET: Income assistance raise still leaves many below poverty line

$50 per month increase included in funding for poverty and homelessness reduction

B.C. BUDGET: Indigenous communities promised billions from gambling

Extended family caregiver pay up 75 per cent to keep kids with relatives

B.C. BUDGET: New benefit increases family tax credits up to 96 per cent

BC Child Opportunity Benefit part of province’s efforts to reduce child poverty

B.C. BUDGET: Carbon tax boosts low-income credits, electric vehicle subsidies

Homeowners can get up to $14,000 for heating, insulation upgrades

B.C. man survives heart attack thanks to Facebook

A Princeton man suffered a heart attack while at an isolated property with no cell service

B.C. man sues Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party over trademark

Satinder Dhillon filed application for trademark same day Maxime Bernier announced the new party

New trial ordered over banning whales, dolphins at Vancouver aquarium

Park board’s appeal reverses previous decision that found it had no right to implement a ban

Most Read