Sunday, November 16, 2014

Truck Loggers: afraid of Goliath?

The Truck Loggers Association of British Columbia publishes a well produced magazine that covers issues relevant to coastal logging contractors and other logging associations throughout BC. Coastal loggers are an independent innovative group of people that tend to stand up for themselves. They have the characteristics of hill and mountain people and genes of the Vikings, from Sweden, Norway, Baltic countries. Other forested countries such as Austria, Germany and even cranky Scots are represented in their heritage.

Canadians tend to be conservative, not in a narrow political sense but in the expectation that our institutions and structures are basically all right and may only need a little tweaking from time to time. Conservatism is generally a good course until such time as major change is needed. In these circumstances conservatism is a recipe for extinction.

The BC forest sector had up and down periods owing to economic cycles. The financial and mortgage crisis of 2008 in USA caused a serious and lasting downturn, but their are other factors affecting the forest industry. Rapid harvesting of virgin old growth timber on the coast caused a hard landing both in logging and in manufacturing plants as lower timber volume second growth started to become the feed for the industry. In the interior of BC, a massive mountain pine beetle epidemic made a binge of wood available for a few years and left a hole in the timber supply in the long term.

The fall 2014 Truck Logger BC magazine tries to paint a rosy picture of sustainability. It says that we are into our second century of forest harvesting and that forests are growing back. This is true but are we truly sustainable? While there has been logging in BC for a long time, the system we work under really dates from WWII. BC wanted money from its forests to fund development that helped to reelect politicians.. We broke our trust to ensure that our mainly public forests would be managed under sustainable arrangements. Most of the timber harvesting rights in public forests were allocated to forest corporations to promote development.

Truck loggers have contracts with the big boys or large forest corporations. They do not want to bite the hand that feeds them, so they support the system. Truck loggers have advocated giving forest corporations long term area leases of public forests. However, their magazine has a constant trickle of complaints arising from the structure of the forest industry. The complaints usually avoid going to the root cause of the issue because that would mean criticizing the system and tackling big corporations.

Logging contractors have been going out of business in the last few years because of low or reduced rates for their work. The big boys or large forest corporations have expected their contractors to shoulder a greater share of the austerity burden of the downturn. Bankrupt contractors often leave unpaid creditors or small business in forest dependent communities, so the problem spreads at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Forest corporations literally get licenses to privateer in public forests and take the profits while passing the losses on to the little guys. Logging contractors could instead be working for a local forest trust chartered to ensure the sustainable well-being of local communities. They would be less likely to go bankrupt under this progressive arrangement.

Truck loggers have their communities at heart and they often advocate for protecting the "working forest" and its timber supply. The "working forest" is public forest allocated for sustainable timber production. More Parks or protected areas were designated in public forests in the 1990's and there is often resistance to visible logging near towns, cities, or traveled routes. This issue is a social one and the inroads to timber production are mainly due to resistance to rapid logging of virgin timber that occurred since WWII. Rather than pushing for some legal designation of a working forest, truck loggers could be advocating for a new system based on forest stewardship responsibilities rather than the present harvesting rights. Such a new system would bring improved social license and less resistance to timber production.

Truck Loggers advocate for log exports. BC has tried to restrict log exports to keep manufacturing jobs in BC. The issue polarizes communities. Pressure for log exports has increased on the coast of BC. Second growth timber was supposed to be ready for harvest at about 70 or 80 years old. However there may not be sufficient volume in a forest stand at this age to cover harvesting costs if it is on a distant steep mountain. Higher export prices can make harvesting economic and give the forest contractor work. Truck loggers are probably justified in advocating for more log exports to alleviate present circumstances. However, the problem is systemic. Logs are expensive to handle and transport long distances. There is considerable waste in manufacture in the form of bark and sawdust so even with no restriction on export, it would make sense to manufacture logs close to home. The fact that others can take our logs half way around the world and manufacture them indicates that we have problems in wood utilization. Coastal sawmills were unready for the major changes and capital costs of retooling for second growth logs. The need to export indicates structural problems. If government and the forest corporations had pursued a more gradual rate of removal of the virgin old growth, the transition period would have been longer and allowed for adaptation of plant and technology. The forest bank would have had a supply of older more valuable second growth.

An aphorism in the latest edition of Truck Logger BC States:  "Utilization of public natural resources to create economic opportunities for the people of BC should not be limited to those who achieve control of the resource". They know the root cause of their problems. The statement comes in an article entitled: "Logging Rate Negotiation: When David meets Goliath". Truck loggers are starting to look like Mr Goebbels in the WWII parody of the Colonel Bogey March.

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