In 2019, for example, unacknowledged subsidies to the logging industry on Quadra Island amounted to over $11 million more than was collected in stumpage, taxes and export fees.
A COMMON PERCEPTION about BC’s forest industry is that it is “sustainable” and therefore benign. “Trees grow back,” the industry asserts, so there is nothing about clearcut logging that the public needs to be concerned about. This simplistic view of logging has been carefully constructed and maintained by both the industry and the publicly-financed forest ministry for several decades. It’s difficult to challenge because the “sustainability” of clearcut logging is now deeply embedded in the collective BC public mind.
But the industry and the ministry have only managed to promote this perception by ignoring basic facts about the true physical and economic costs of logging.
For example, the operational, capital and other annual costs incurred by the ministry of forests, whose activities are almost entirely dedicated to meeting the needs of the logging industry for a steady supply of cheap “fibre,” are far higher than the revenue collected from logging companies through stumpage, the BC Logging Tax and export fees. The net costs of this forest management are borne by BC taxpayers. On a province-wide basis, the net cost of forest management, after including all revenue from logging and milling operations, cost BC taxpayers nearly $1 million per day between 2010 and 2019.
But some logging operations are more heavily subsidized than others, and on this count the Discovery Island forest tenures excel. During 2021—a year of record high lumber prices—the average stumpage paid across BC was $36 per cubic metre. But TimberWest paid an average of only $26.86 per cubic metre for the volume it logged on Quadra Island and island woodlots paid far, far less. For example, Okisollo Resources paid just $2.69 per cubic metre, only seven percent of the provincial average. Younger Brothers Holdings paid $3.80 per cubic metre, and so on. This was not just a one-year aberration.
Between 2010 and 2021, stumpage paid per cubic metre by TimberWest was lower than the provincial average 10 years out of 12. The rate paid by the woodlot tenure holders was lower—much lower—every single year.
But the public subsidization of the industry goes far beyond forest management costs. For example, the BC logging industry would be far less profitable if forest product manufacturers—especially pulp mills—had to pay the same rate for electricity that residential consumers pay. Not only is the rate lower, but higher consumption earns mills an even lower rate. That inequity is in place despite the fact that for residential consumers, higher electrical consumption triggers a higher rate.
Nor could logging companies afford to operate if they were required to pay for the carbon emissions that occur as a result of their operations. When a forest stand is clearcut, approximately one-half of the biomass killed is left as waste in the clearcut. That waste is then burned in a slash pile, burned in a subsequent forest fire, or decomposes over time. In each case, prodigious quantities of carbon are prematurely released to the atmosphere. While everyone else in BC has to pay for their carbon emissions by paying the BC Carbon Tax, the logging companies pay nothing for the far greater emissions that result from the premature decomposition of biomass killed by logging operations.
In the midst of a “climate emergency” and growing recognition that a warmer world will result in pervasive economic and environmental disruption—like the forest fires and floods that occurred in BC in 2021—we no longer have the luxury of believing that the huge quantities of carbon being prematurely released to the atmosphere by logging are “sustainable.”
Likewise, logging on the Discovery Islands terminates the carbon sequestration capacity of forest stands at the very age when those stands are just reaching their peak years of carbon storage. The relatively short period of time between the successive cuts for managed tree plantations (45 -70 years) compared with a Discovery Island forest’s natural life span (300-800 years) will result in a nearly four-fold reduction in carbon sequestration capacity. Province-wide, the carbon sequestration capacity of BC forests has declined by 90 megatonnes per year over the last 20 years. (To put that in perspective, BC’s total non-forest-related carbon emissions in 2019 were about 67 megatonnes.) Approximately one-half of BC’s loss in carbon sequestration capacity is a result of forests being killed by logging.
This is a huge blow to BC’s efforts to reduce emissions caused by economic activity.
The additional carbon emissions caused by logging, when valued at the same rate as the BC Carbon Tax, amount to a multi-billion-dollar subsidization of the industry every year.
The failure of the BC government to factor in these four subsidies in its assessment of the “sustainability” of the logging industry is leading to catastrophic impacts. To help fill this vacuum in public understanding of the true impacts of clearcut logging, this project will monitor the volume of biomass logged on publicly-owned land on the Discovery Islands and estimate the total public subsidy associated with the operations of each individual logging company.
We are using the ministry of forests’ own assessments of its costs and revenues, along with other information obtained through FOI requests, to determine these annual public subsidies. Below are summaries for Quadra and Read of the public subsidies we have calculated for logging companies operating here. This is a work in progress and other islands will be added soon.
Subsidy summaries by island, 2010 to 2019. Click images to enlarge.