The new owners of the Crofton pulp and paper mill and forestry workers in the Cowichan Valley are pleased with the government’s announcement of policy changes in the province’s forest sector.
Speaking at the annual Truck Loggers Association convention last week, Premier John Horgan said his government is taking steps to reverse a systemic decline that has taken place in the coastal forest sector over most of the last two decades.
He said that his government will work to increase the processing of B.C. logs on the coast and to reduce wood waste by redirecting it to B.C.’s pulp and paper mills.
Horgan said his plan, called the Coast Forest Sector Revitalization Initiative, includes rebuilding solid wood and secondary industries to ensure more B.C. logs and fibre are processed in the province, improving harvest performance to ensure more fibre is available for domestic mills, including the pulp and paper sector, and maintaining a credible auction system by taking steps to ensure bids on timber sale licences are independently made.
Brian Baarda, CEO of Paper Excellence Canada which bought the Crofton pulp and paper mill from Catalyst Paper last year, said B.C. coastal pulp and paper mills are in urgent need of additional pulp fibre supply.
“We support changes to improve the availability of fibre supply and ways to reduce the costs of scaling and handling pulp logs,” Baarda said.
“We look forward to working with First Nations and forest licensees to increase the fibre supply from Vancouver Island and the south coast for pulp mills and sawmills.”
Brian Butler, president of the United Steelworkers Local 1-1937, which represents hundreds of unionized forestry workers in the Valley, said the Steelworkers are very pleased to see the provincial government take serious action to significantly reduce log exports, and make meaningful changes to spur on manufacturing investment through its coast revitalization process.
“The government’s requirements for more manufacturing of minimally processed lumber and lower waste benchmarks are important moves that, along with processing more logs in B.C., will create more jobs for British Columbians,” Butler said.
“The USW has been advocating for these and other changes for many years. Our members, and the communities they live in, stand to benefit in a big way from greater utilization of our working forest. The USW also supports the government’s engagement, inclusion and collaboration with First Nations. Their increased involvement will only make our industry stronger.”
The government intends to implement the goals in its new initiative through a series of legislative, regulatory and policy changes over the next two years.
The policy reforms were developed after engaging with a broad cross-section of First Nations, industry and labour over the last six months.
“We’re committed to rebuilding a strong and healthy coastal forest sector for British Columbians,” said Horgan.
“Through the forest policy reforms I’m announcing, we will see more logs and fibre processed in B.C., supporting B.C. workers, their families and communities.”
Effective on July 1, 2019, the fee charged for log exports will be revised to be based on harvest economics.
New criteria for log exports from certain geographic areas, based on local harvesting economics and subject to engagement and consultation with First Nations, will be developed.
Changes to waste policy are designed to redirect some of the approximately two million cubic metres of wood waste on the coast — or approximately enough wood waste to fill 800 Olympic-sized swimming pools each year — to pulp and paper producers and the bio-products/bioenergy sector, supporting CleanBC’s renewed bioenergy strategy.
A coastal fibre recovery zone will be established this spring, where penalties will apply for leaving waste in excess of new lower waste benchmarks in harvested areas.
Over the next year, changes will be made to increase penalties for late reporting of waste.
Sonia Furstenau, MLA for the Cowichan Valley said the province’s forestry sector, along with the forests themselves, have become very unhealthy and vulnerable over the past several decades.
She said widespread mill closures, large-scale exports of raw logs, growing amounts of usable waste fibre left at cut locations, intensifying wildfire seasons, pest outbreaks, and watershed impacts are all challenges that must be taken seriously.
“These reforms should have started a decade ago, and must start with the recognition that a healthy industry is contingent on a healthy forest ecosystem,” Furstenau said.
“Likewise, protecting old growth trees is a core priority for our caucus. We aim to develop a sustainable, second-growth sector in B.C., one that is resilient to climate change and forest fires and can provide meaningful, rewarding employment to the local community, as a means to stop the logging of old growth trees.”