After weeks of urgent pleas that the forest-based economy of northern Vancouver Island and the B.C. coast is suffering irreparable damage, the B.C. government has delayed some of the changes that logging companies say have made timber harvesting too expensive.
Changes include easing new fees on unrecovered wood waste, and delaying a new fee system for exported logs.
Forests Minister Doug Donaldson has already moved to slash stumpage fees for coastal timber, which were cited by contractors when they suspended logging in recent months. Teal Jones Group reduced its Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island logging in May and shut the rest down in September, cutting off wood supply to two sawmills and a cedar shake mill in Surrey that employ 500 people.
Mosaic Forest Management laid off about 2,000 union and non-union employees as well as coastal logging contractors at the end of November, beginning its seasonal shutdown early due to what the company termed “very challenging pricing and market conditions.” Mosaic is a partnership of Island Timberlands and Timberwest, which along with Western Forest Products represents most of the lumber industry on Vancouver Island and the adjacent coast.
Western has been shut down for almost six months by striking United Steelworkers members, forcing logging contractors off the job. Premier John Horgan has promised aid for contractors, who are losing their homes and equipment. Labour Minister Harry Bains has met with both sides as mediated negotiations have dragged on.
The forests ministry issued a statement to Black Press describing the log export changes that are designed to keep more logs in B.C. for milling. The maximum “fee in lieu” has been reduced from 50 per cent of log value to 35 and the imposition on private logging companies has been delayed six months.
“The fee-in-lieu of manufacture has been in place for some time,” the ministry said. “It provides revenue to government in lieu of the economic benefits that are received when logs are manufactured within the province.
“The new, variable fee-in-lieu, which reflects the economics of each stand, was applied to new B.C. Timber Sales licences on the Coast in July. It was originally going to also apply for all new cutting permits on the Coast, starting Dec. 15. Recognizing the many challenges facing the coastal forest industry, while it will still apply to all new B.C. Timber Sales licences on the Coast, its application across all permits has been delayed.”
B.C. Liberal forests critic John Rustad said keeping the higher fees on B.C. Timber Sales blocks means up to half of them are not attracting bids from logging companies.
“People are only operating now in areas where they can make a go of it, in terms of fibre recovery,” Rustad said in an interview.
A new “fibre recovery zone” system that triples fees for usable wood left behind is still in place, but Donaldson said the zones have been reduced based on industry data effective Monday, Dec. 23.
Provincial stumpage fees for cutting coastal Crown land timber are being reduced to $8.82 per cubic metre as of Jan. 1, in the latest quarterly adjustment to reflect the falling price of lumber. Stumpage reached a high of $18.73 in January 2019.