Good idea, bad delivery: re-allocating the Cut

Everyone knows that the virtual monopoly big corporate tenure holders hold over BC’s timber must be broken. It’s not even that controversial a subject, having been endorsed by every major government forestry panel and commission in recent memory, including the 50% reallocation suggested by the Forest Resource Commission in the 1990s.

That’s why the 20% AAC reallocation in the so-called Forestry Revitalization plan was a small step in the right direction. [More on the faulty numbers below-ED.] In fact the reallocation was only a small quid pro quo to communities, First Nations and small operators in exchange for the huge regulatory concessions logging companies received in the Liberal forestry changes introduced in spring and fall 2003.

However, the manner in which the Liberals are implementing the reallocation turns what should be a step towards community-based diversification into a windfall for companies and the death nell for some mill towns.

For once, the Vancouver Sun got it right with their headline, “Reallocation hits communities unequally.” But the uneven impacts on communities were not inevitable. They are the result of the approach the Liberal government specifically chose for this takeback and reallocation.

Instead of taking back an equitable amount from each tenure in each region, the government chose to let companies concentrate their takeback in a few licences, leading to disproportionate impacts on a few workers and communities.

The government has indicated it chose to target companies rather than licences in order to “provide maximum flexibility for both companies and government in determining what timber to take back.

Once again this indicates the Campbell government’s belief that what’s good for big companies is good for BC. Workers and communities facing the brunt of this unequal reallocation think otherwise.

This unequal takeback hits communities in two ways:

  • Many communities, First Nations and small businesses will be out of luck as there will be no reallocated wood available near them.
  • A few communities and workers–those chosen by companies and the government, with no consultation–will be hit very hard as the takeback reduces company volume in their area and operations shut down as a result.

The Liberals’ misguided approach to the takeback also raises serious concerns about companies getting rid of wood supply that doesnot really exist. The BC Chief Foresters’ process for setting cut levels always overestimates the real volume of wood available.

Thus in many areas cut levels are set well above sustaianbale levels, and well above what is actually available on the ground. My guess is that companies have chosen to give up volumes from their marginal operations that perhaps exist only on paper .

Ministry staff have consistently given their assurances that the takeback would not be the junk timber that companies no longer want. Ministry staff assured the public that the volume taken back would be representative of the full spectrum of each company’s tenure holdings.

Instead, it looks like companies are abandoning tenures that are likely no longer profitable because the best wood is long gone. This has been the history, and the secret reallocation process suggests nothing has changed.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the takeback is not big enough. The volumes of wood freed up are not sufficient to create real competition. There will not be sufficient volumes to create real diversity in the industry. As a result, the new so-called market based pricing system is doomed to be manipulated by the big logging companies. But then perhaps that was the intent.

Finally, back to the numbers. The government announced a 20% takeback, but the real percentage is considerably smaller. Although the provincial Crown allowed the takeback to be distributed by company, they calculated the takeback by the licence (with the first 200,000 cubic metres of each licence exempted. Thus the actual takeback ranges from as little as .5% to as much as 18.9% depending on the company.

For example:

  • Ainsworth .5%
  • Canfor 18.9%
  • Carrier Lumber 2.3%
  • Doman 18.1%
  • Gorman Bros. 10.4%
  • Husby 2.0%
  • Interfor 18.7%
  • Lignum 7.9%
  • Louisiana Pacific 6.1%
  • Pope & Talbot 16.5%
  • Riverside 15.4%
  • Slocan 14.4%
  • Tembec 12.1%
  • TimberWest 16.3%
  • Tolko 16.0%
  • Weldwood 18.2%
  • West Fraser 18.1%
  • Weyerhaeuser 17.4%

As you see, the rhetoric defies the reality. The ill-advised approach chosen by the Liberal government is unfortunate and another indication of their contempt for communities and workers.

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