The Truck Loggers Association celebrates its 75th anniversary in Victoria this week, with coastal logging contractors waiting for the NDP government to put its stamp on forest policy and help a struggling industry.
Premier John Horgan speaks to the convention for the first time Thursday, and members are waiting for word on the provincial review of the viability of logging contractors that was promised by former premier Christy Clark at last year’s convention.
TLA executive director Dave Elstone said he hopes a report by former cabinet minister George Abbott will be ready by the end of January, offering strategies to reverse the fortunes of contractors who have been leaving the logging industry in recent years.
The convention opened Wednesday, featuring a keynote address by Patrick Moore, best known as a co-founder of Greenpeace who quit the organization when he decided it had lost its way. Moore recounted the history of his family company, W.D. Moore Log Co., which shut down last fall after 90 years of operation at Winter Harbour on northern Vancouver Island.
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Elstone told Black Press that W.D. Moore is one of about 40 logging contractors to leave the coastal business in recent years. High U.S. lumber prices have the remaining loggers running full tilt, but current conditions for the industry leave them with the narrowest of operating margins, he said.
Loggers cope with unpredictable weather, such as last year’s hard winter followed by a wet spring and dry summer, which affect operations in the coastal forest. And even with the current lumber export duty of more than 20 per cent imposed by the U.S. being covered by the current high price, the industry is vulnerable to any price downturn, Elstone said.
Another policy being closely watched by the TLA is the NDP government’s log export policy. Horgan has criticized timber companies for trucking logs past shut-down sawmills to sell them for export, and even suggested in last year’s election campaign that coastal logs should be shipped to B.C. Interior sawmills.
Forests Minister Doug Donaldson speaks to the convention Friday. His mandate letter from Horgan directs him to “develop a fair, lasting strategy to create more jobs by processing more logs in B.C.”
The TLA argues there is sufficient log supply to support both domestic mills and exports, but major timber licence holders are not harvesting their allowable cut. Contractors say lower-quality coastal timber is only economical to harvest if cedar and other export-grade logs come out with it.
A hemlock sawlog that sells domestically for $60 a cubic metre costs as much as $90 or $100 to harvest, and can be sold for up to $120 to the export market, a Vancouver Island producer told the TLA magazine.