IN THE YEAR 2000, there were 101,000 direct jobs in BC's forest industry: 35,500 in forestry, logging and support services; 47,800 in wood product manufacturing; and 17,700 in pulp/paper manufacturing. By 2019, only 16,100 jobs were left in forestry, logging and support services; 21,000 in wood product manufacturing; and 9,000 in pulp/paper manufacturing. Half of all jobs in the forest industry disappeared in just 20 years. Those figures are all from Stats BC's "Employment by detailed industry."
To understand where BC needs to look to increase forest-related employment, we really need to understand why that large decrease in forest-related jobs occurred, and where employment under the current regime of industrial forestry is likely to go if the business-as-usual course is continued by BC's government.
To begin with, we know that the massive disappearance of half of all the jobs didn't occur as a result of cutting less forest. The chart below shows how the actual harvest has changed since 2000. It has dropped about by about 12 percent.
The forest industry's view on job loss was captured in a 2017 editorial in a BC Truck Logger's Association newsletter. It attributed the job loss to three sources: Manufacturing productivity gains accounted for 38 percent; logging productivity gains 27 percent; less manufactured wood products 22 percent; reduced harvest 10 percent; and log exports 4 percent.
Those "productivity gains" were all a result of technological change. For example, individual fallers with chainsaws were largely replaced by feller bunchers. Sawmills became more automated. Since that direction is likely to continue as artificial intelligence and industrial robots seep into the industry, employment derived from industrial forestry is likely to decline even further as a result of future "productivity gains."
This machine allows more forest to be cut by less people
The TLA's account of less manufactured wood products" noted the decline in the use of paper. The direction has already been set by younger generations. They use the internet for information and services that their grandparents found in telephone books and newspapers. That change will accelerate as younger generations increasingly make choices informed by the need to reduce carbon emissions.
Another change that would have a profound impact on the future number of jobs in industrial forestry is the small amount amount of old-growth forest left. Chris Harvey, a forester and spokesperson for the Teal Jones Group noted in 2016 that "old growth is an absolutely essential part for us to harvest. We can’t be economically viable if we log 100 percent second-growth. And this is true for other companies as well.”
In 2020 a spokesperson for Mosaic, the joint management company for both Island Timberlands and TimberWest, stated that without being able to export raws logs, its operations would not be economically viable.
If forest companies are allowed to keep harvesting old growth, it will be all gone by around 2035. Whether an industry with nothing to harvest but second-growth trees will be economically viable is unknown, but significantly smaller trees will mean harvest levels could very well fall. The lumber from younger, smaller diameter trees will be less valuable as a construction material. Smaller trees will be harvestable with smaller machines and hand-falling of trees will largely be eliminated. None of these factors bode well for an industry which, according to Harvey, is not economically viable without old growth in the mix.
The trend is toward industrial forestry being a source of less and less employment. Current low employment levels are already past the point where employment should be a significant factor in an objective determination of what use of the publicly-owned forests represents the greatest public good.