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

MULTIMEDIA: 17th Maple Sugar festival as sweet as maple syrup

L’Association des francophones de Nanaimo held its 17th Maple Sugar Festival this weekend.

Lantzville’s 1935 Seagrave fire truck returning to its California home

A piece of firefighting history from Lantzville will make its way back to Alameda, Calif.

Trailer fire extinguished in Nanaimo

Fire damage limited thanks to neighbour who spotted smoke and called 911

UPDATE: Stolen pickup truck recovered during arrest south of Nanaimo

Two suspects were arrested in connection with a stolen pickup truck in Cassidy on Thursday evening

City to re-name community policing office and keep it open

Council votes 6-2 for city to maintain a presence at Victoria Crescent office

President praises nearly 1,800 volunteers at B.C. Games

Ashley Wadhwani sits down with the Kamloops 2018 B.C. Winter Games President Niki Remesz

The way government learn someone has died is getting a digital overhaul

Governments in Canada turned to private consultants 2 years ago to offer blueprint

Bobsleigh team misses Olympic medal finish

Canadian team finishes four-man event 0.84 seconds behind first place, 0.31 seconds from podium

B.C. Games: Athletes talk Team Canada at PyeongChang 2018

From Andi Naudie to Evan McEachran there’s an Olympian for every athlete to look up to

Minor injuries after car veers into Courtenay dance studio

A driver and passenger were taken to hospital after their vehicle crashed… Continue reading

Snowboarders sliding into fresh territory at B.C. Games

Athletes hit the slopes for first appearance as an event at the B.C. Winter Games in Kamloops

Looking back at the 1979 B.C. Games: Good memories, even better jackets

39 years later, Kamloops is hosting the Winter Games again, with some volunteers returning

OLYMPICS 101: Oldest and youngest Canadians to reach the podium

This year, Canada sent its most athletes in Winter Games history, here’s a look at record breakers

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Pieces of litter start to add up

There is so much garbage being littered on the side of the road

Most Read