Logging in BC releases immense quantities of carbon emissions, degrades needed ecosystem services, destroys habitat for at-risk wildlife and creates conditions that allow larger and more intense forest fires. It’s time to downsize the industry to a level that meets BC’s own needs and no more.
All large forest fires in BC involve many thousands of acres of clearcuts and plantations, both of which have a higher fire hazard rating than primary and mature forest (Photo: BC Wildfire Service)
JOBS IN BRITISH COLUMBIA’S FOREST SECTOR have become a talisman exploited by the forest industry and its associations in persuading politicians of the importance of the sector to the provincial economy.
As forestry jobs have steadily declined, industry lobbyists like the Council of Forest Industries, Resource Works and the Truck Loggers’ Association have become increasingly creative in overstating the contribution of the forest sector to the provincial economy by, for example, inflating job numbers with indirect jobs. If Statistics Canada were to count jobs this way, we would have many more jobs than there are residents in the province.
Between the years 2000 and 2019, the forest sector of British Columbia shed 50,000 direct jobs largely due to mechanization and depletion of old growth forests. About the same number—50,000—remain, mostly in manufacturing.
So let’s question the talisman. Is it that ridiculous to shed the remaining number of direct forestry jobs in the woods and manufacturing by, say, 40,000? Perhaps not. Let’s examine some of the compelling reasons for a reduced workforce in forestry:
Tree cover loss expressed as area per capita is greater in BC than in most forested countries of the world; greater than in Brazil, Indonesia and Russia. This rate and extent of clearcut logging has a large carbon footprint. The prevalence of highly flammable clearcuts and young plantations (less than 25 years) has become a significant driver of the size of wildfires…the mega fires of recent years that destroy homes and impact air quality so badly that our health is endangered, including the spread of COVID.
In fact, wildfires in BC have increased in size and intensity so dramatically that they, together with logging, now exceed fossil fuels as the province’s major source of climate-destabilizing carbon. You won’t find this in the provincial government’s carbon accounting because it has deftly chosen to ignore carbon emissions from logging and wildfire.
Consequences of clearcut logging more familiar to the reader include: the loss of the little remaining old-growth forests growing in ecosystems rich in biodiversity; the destruction of fish and wildlife habitat (salmon, caribou and grizzlies); and the relentless extermination and extirpation of animals, plants and fungi.
In many ways, climate change in BC is all about water. Here, clearcutting is instrumental in contaminating the drinking water for many rural communities; in depleting groundwater causing more frequent and prolonged drought events; and, of huge concern to the residents of Grand Forks and the Okanagan Valley, in increasing the frequency, magnitude and duration of major flood events.
The excessive rate of clearcutting is permitted by a grossly inflated allowable annual cut (AAC). But the question is: to what end? Only 20 percent of the forest products derived from clearcutting are destined for our domestic market. The remaining 80 percent satisfies export markets mostly in the United States, China and Japan—all of which have higher standards for the conservation and protection of old-growth forests than does BC. This means that those three countries are conserving their ecosystems at the expense of the degradation and loss of our ecosystems.
In spite of the high level of exports of forest products, the forest sector contributes a meagre two per cent to the provincial gross domestic product (GDP) and only two per cent to the provincial labour force. In other words, our provincial economy is sufficiently robust and resilient to absorb further job losses in forestry and reduced exports of raw logs and forest products.
Accordingly, would it not be in the public interest to ban clearcutting and substantially lower the allowable annual cut thereby reducing the export of raw logs and forest products and cutting back the labour force in the forest sector?
If we as a society in BC can shed 400,000 jobs in two months of 2020 to deal with a global pandemic, is it that ridiculous to transition, say, 40,000 forestry jobs into non-destructive forest and value-added enterprises and into other economic sectors in order to mitigate a global climate emergency already having such profound consequences for BC's environment and residents?
Anthony Britneff worked for the BC Forest Service for 40 years holding senior professional positions in inventory, silviculture and forest health.