31st July 2019
Yellow Point Ecological Society (YES)
Our Suggested Changes to the Private Managed Forest Lands Program- PART 1
July 22, 2019
In BC, we have Crown forests. We have private forest lands, where most people live. We have public forests that are protected as parks. We have community forests, such as North Cowichan’s. And we have the Private Managed Forest Lands, which are actively harvested while being under private ownership.
Each type of forest is governed by different people and different rules. The urgent need that faces us, at this unprecedented time of climate and ecological emergency, is to find ways to manage the forests in which our needs for timber, income and jobs can be met while nature is nourished, carbon is stored and water is protected.
Very much to the point, the BC government is asking for our ideas on how the governance and management of Crown Lands and Private Managed Forest Lands might need changing. This paper is focussed on the latter. Our thoughts about Crown lands can be found on our website.
The climate emergency is such that we need to reduce our harmful carbon emissions as rapidly as we possibly can, while simultaneously increasing the means by which Earth’s forests, farms, grasslands and oceans re-absorb the dangerously excessive carbon.
The ecological emergency is such that the team of scientists who have written the Global Deal for Nature are urging that we need to preserve 50% of Earth’s lands in a natural state by 2030 if we are to have a hope of keeping global heating under the “danger zone” target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, and prevent the world’s ecosystems from unravelling.
The History of the Private Forest Lands
The Private Managed Forest Lands on Vancouver Island have their origin in the 1875 E&N Rail Grant, when a quarter of Vancouver Island from Sooke to Campbell River (two million acres) was given to Robert Dunsmuir as part of the arrangement to build a railway on the Island. In the years between 1925 and 1960 the Dunsmuirs sold most of their lands to coal and forest companies.
Two big companies own the most Private Managed Forest Lands on Vancouver Island: TimberWest and Island Timberlands. Some of the Dunsmuir forest lands were bought by MacMillan Bloedel, which was later bought by Weyerhauser, parts of which were later bought by Brookfield Asset Management, which then created Island Timberlands, seeking a 12-15% return on equity, presuming industrial logging followed by real estate development.
Other forest lands were bought by the American pulp and paper conglomerate Crown Zellerbach, parts of which were bought by Fletcher Challenge, which over time became TimberWest in 1997. In the late 1990s, TimberWest developed a sustainability agreement with the government in which their Oyster River Division in the Comox Valley would harvest 400,000 cubic metres a year. In the late 1990s, however, TimberWest’s owners decided to become an Income Trust, which required them to provide a guaranteed 8% return to their unit holders. In pursuit of this they ditched the sustainability agreement and increased harvesting to 1.2 million cubic metres a year, to much community protest. In the years between 2008-2011, Brookfield Asset Management, Western Forest Products, Weyerhauser and TimberWest donated $290,000 to the BC Liberals.
In 2011, TimberWest and Island Timberlands were bought by the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, the Public Sector Pension Investment Board and the Alberta Investment Management Corporation for just over $1 billion. TimberWest’s core business is selling hemlock and Douglas fir logs from their 327,000 hectares to B.C and Pacific Rim markets. In 2011, Asian exports accounted for 70% of their log sales and revenue. In 2018 the two companies entered into an agreement to provide for shared use of facilities, align best practices and enhance forest stewardship, and they are now managed jointly by Mosaic Forest Management.
With an eye on the long-term, TimberWest has earmarked 17% of its 322,000 hectares as being suited for real estate development in addition to forestry. Island Timberlands has done the same for 5% of its 256,000 hectares.
The Private Managed Forest Lands in total includes 278 private managed forests covering 818,000 hectares, from which 4.76 million cubic feet were harvested in 2017, representing 7% of BC’s timber harvest.
On Vancouver Island there are 201 managed forest, on which 33 owners harvested 8,861 hectares of forest, yielding 4.27 million cubic metres of timber (482 cubic metres/hectare), 28% of the Island’s timber harvest. At 40 cubic metres per logging truck, that’s 107,000 trucks, which parked nose-to-tail would stretch 1819 km from Vancouver to Winnipeg.
BC’s total average annual timber harvest is 77 million cubic metres, or 1.95 million logging trucks, which parked nose-to-tail would stretch for 33,000 kilometres, 7,000 km short of the circumference of the Earth.
Ecologically Sustainable Investments
The wants and needs of investors are defining motivators at heart of modern economies, accompanied by the externalization of costs to nature, communities and workers, in accordance with the principles of neo-classical economics. The natural growth rate of timber in forests on the east coast of Vancouver Island is 2%-4%, but TimberWest’s investors at the time demanded 8%. The only possible sources of a return higher than the natural growth rate are increased productivity, which is currently pushed to the limit with the use of feller-bunchers, decreased wage-costs, reduced payment of taxes, or unsustainable harvesting. The additional return could be achieved by liquidating the forest over 20 years and then selling the company to a private equity (leveraged buy-out) firm, but this would be vulture capitalism at its worst, close to piracy, with the forest being the stolen booty.
As the sole intermediary between the government and the private sector, the Private Managed Forest Lands Council bears the responsibility for ensuring that large land-owning companies do not abuse the privileges they receive through the Program by exploiting the forests under their stewardship in a non-sustainable manner. The forests have been here for 12,000 years, and if we manage them responsibly, and if they can survive ecological disruptions caused by the climate crisis, they will be here for many thousands of years to come.
Troubles on the Land (1) – Watershed Impacts
Many people in the Comox Valley, the Nanaimo watershed and the Cowichan Valley have been troubled by the way the big companies have been logging. In the Comox Valley, mountainsides have been stripped bare of their timber, silt and mud is being washed away, the rivers are flooding in winter, and there are boil water advisories in the summer. In consequence, the CVRD is having to build a sophisticated underwater pumping station and an onshore pump station with filtration, chlorination and UV treatment, costing local taxpayers a probable $125 million. When New York City’s 9.5 million residents were faced with a $10 billion cost to build new water filtration plants, plus $100 million a year to maintain them, they found that they could achieve the same result by investing $1.5 billion in watershed restoration with 368 local landowners.
In July 2019 the Narwhal reported that: “In Peachland in the Okanagan, where extensive logging has taken place nearby, a landslide downslope of a logging road contributed to boil-water advisories and the need for a new $24 million water treatment plant funded by the community. In Grand Forks, sprawling clearcuts are believed to have played a major role in a monster flood in 2018 that inundated houses and led to the closure of 28 downtown businesses. In the Regional District of Central Kootenay — which stretches from the U.S. border to north of Nakusp and includes Glade and the cities of Nelson and Castlegar — at least seven communities face clear-cut logging on slopes that are home to the creeks that supply their drinking water.”
Because of the heavy logging, the Columbian blacktail deer that used to browse on lichen hanging from old growth trees at upper elevations to get them through the winter have been forced down into the valleys to feed on gardens and fruit trees. In the Cowichan Valley, similar problems have arisen: mountainsides stripped bare, flooding in winter, and the Cowichan river drying up in summer, threatening the spawning grounds of the coho, and the spring salmon, on which the southern killer whales depend. The warming climate and shrinking glaciers are also contributing, demonstrating how the different impacts combine.
Troubles on the Land (2) – Climate Impacts
Clearcut logging has big climate impacts. A healthy growing forest is a carbon sink, absorbing CO2 through photosynthesis and storing it as carbon in the timber and soil. In consequence, over the millennia BC’s forests have become a huge store of carbon. Old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest with a timber volume of 1500-1800 cubic metres per hectare hold carbon stocks that vary from 750 to 1130 tonnes per hectare, with 30-50% being stored in the soil and 400 to 500 tonnes in the trees.
When the timber is cut and used for pulp or paper and the soil is disturbed each cubic metre of timber releases a tonne of CO2. The 4,270,000 cubic metres that are logged each year in the Private Managed Forest Lands on Vancouver Island therefore release some 4.27 million tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of a million cars driving on the road for a year. BC’s total harvest, averaging 77 million cubic metres, releases 77 million tonnes of CO2, compared to 62 million tonnes for BC’s annual emissions from everything else.
Once clearcut, a hectare of forest debris becomes a net source of 22 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year. The shift from source to sink occurs at around 17 years, and a near-end-of-rotation stand (50-60 years-old) stores 15 tonnes per hectare. The Sierra Club has estimated that Including forest fires, BC’s net forest emissions totalled 209 million tonnes a year in 2017 and 2018, three times more than all other emissions combined. For the average log, the Sierra Club estimates that 23% of the carbon is stored in timber products; the BC government estimates 52%.
... Continued in Part 2