Ben Parfitt, a well-respected forestry author and analyst with the B.C. Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, wrote an in-depth piece on Dec. 2, bringing forth information about a little-known government initiative that subsidizes the logging of low quality wood.
Essentially, logging companies are given credits for logging wood that is considered low quality, and can redeem those credits to log higher quality wood that doesn’t count against their annual allowable cut (AAC). Furthermore, pellet and pulp mills receive subsidization for purchasing the wood and using it to make products.
This means that since the system was put into place in 2006, logging companies in the B.C. Interior and North have been able to log unquantified amounts of trees that were not reported as part of their AAC
Lakes District News spoke to Parfitt about his findings, who says he caught wind of this credit system by doing something simple; looking close enough. “In June, the provincial government released their intentions paper on the forest industry. So much attention was focused on the blockades at ferry creek, so no one really looked at the report. I came across two short sentences about crediting, and there is reference that it would be outside the AAC,” said Parfitt.
According to Parfitt, what’s happening as a result of this credit subsidy program, is the amount of harvestable trees is running out because logging companies are consistently exceeding the amount of their AAC without it being documented.
“On the one hand, we have a government who, under immense pressure, has made a deferral announcement. Yet, at the same time this government, like others before it, has actively encouraged subsidies for the logging of more forest,” Parfitt explained.
Parfitt believes it’s this program that will cause the demise of the forestry industry, and that the deferral of old growth logging is only prolonging the fall.
In the report, Burns Lake and Houston are singled out as places where these logging credits are occurring. According to Parfitt’s findings, over the last five years, the Nadina District’s logging companies extracted 14 per cent more trees than they were entitled to cut under their AACs.
Close to 33 per cent of those trees during that time were considered lower quality logs that could be used to generate credits.
According to Burns Lake Community Forest (BLCF) General Manager Frank Varga, BLCF does not have a grade 4 [low quality wood] credit by definition.
“The principles behind grade 4 credit are that volume logged under grade 4 classification when its assessed, will not be treated like green volume, which it clearly isn’t. As most grade 4 requires more handling, processing, and generally more expensive logging, it is subject to lower stumpage. As well, because it’s dead fiber, and has been removed from AAC calculations, should not count towards the overall green AAC calculation,” Varga told Lakes District News.
“I can tell you that BLCF does not have a grade 4 credit by definition. We have a dry versus green partition. We have lower stumpage for dry grade 4, like all licensee’s, however our AAC provides a maximum annual green harvest over the life of the AAC, and although a ceiling has been established with the dry for the term of the AAC, it is understood, that as long as we don’t harvest more green than the AAC allotted, the dry can be amended to include more,” he continued.
“The way we look at it is that if we continue to harvest more dry [dead wood] and can generate the value and keep the economy going on dry, we can delay our green harvest into the future, when we have no other options.”
Lakes District News also reached out to Hampton Lumber CEO Steve Zika for his thoughts on the credit system. “The grade 4 stumpage system was designed years ago to encourage licensees to utilize the dead pine before its value was completely lost and help pay for replanting efforts,” he said.
“We don’t believe the system is being abused and the ministry closely tracks the volume of grade 4 credits. Long-term timber supply has been negatively affected by all the dead trees left behind by the pine beetle, the stumpage system does not change that reality. Babine Forest Products has not applied for grade 4 credits in recent years.”
According to Parfitt’s report, pellet mills such as the Pinnacle Renewable Energy mill in Burns Lake claim to use what is called waste wood, as opposed to whole logs. It’s stated on Pinnacle’s website home page that waste by-products from timber manufacturing are refined to make pencil sized pellets.
However, Parfitt’s findings indicate that there are released images of pellet mills in Burns Lake, Houston as well as Smithers that are stocked to the brim with walls of whole logs.
If whole logs are being used to support the pellet industry, it will further expedite the process of running out of harvestable trees.
In terms of a long term impact of this credit system, according to Parfitt, it’s difficult to say. “It’s going to be on a regionally specific basis. I think people should be concerned in your region [Nadina District] because the AAC has been exceeded over the last five years by quite a bit. The longer those arcs are exceeded, the more likely there will be a fall down,” said Parfitt.
In response to Parfitt’s report, the provincial government released a statement regarding the credit system.
“This credit system was introduced under the previous government as a way to deal with timber damaged by the mountain pine beetle. We made it clear when we released our intentions paper in June that we are reviewing how cut control is designed and implemented. We have recently engaged with First Nations, communities, licence holders, processing facility owners, and the public, on the ongoing use of grade 4 credits,” the government stated.
“An estimated $55.6 million in grants supported increased utilization of lower-quality fibre. These efforts help mitigate the impacts of climate change and wildfires on our communities. They also complement B.C.’s world-class wildfire suppression capabilities and the ministry’s existing forest stewardship programs, including the Climate Leadership Plan and the Forest Carbon Initiative.”
In the last 20 years, over 40,000 forestry jobs in B.C. have been lost.