Logs being loaded onto a barge wuth the words Pacific Basin on the side

Once A Major Source of Employment

The number of jobs provided by cutting island forests is no longer a key concern of either tenure holders or government

Originally published by the Discovery Islands Forest Conservation Project

By David Broadland

Ministry of Forests’ records suggest 80 to 90 percent of the cut on Quadra Island is exported as raw logs by Mosaic Forest Management—all to support government employee pensions.

At one time in BC, the damage done by logging forests was considered an acceptable cost for the jobs provided. In 1965, for example, for each 1000 cubic metres of wood harvested, there were 1.69 people employed in logging, milling and allied industries.

But by 2019, that number had fallen to less than a full job—.79 person per 1000 cubic metres. That’s less than half of what it was in 1965. Ouch.

Of that .79 person per 1000 cubic metres in 2019, only .33 was in “forestry and logging with support services.” In areas of BC where clearcutting is followed by raw log exports, .33 person per 1000 cubic metres is all there is in terms of jobs.

Both TimberWest and Island Timberlands log on the Discovery Islands, and, as “Mosaic Forest Management,” they are BC’s largest exporter of raw logs. How much of the volume that TimberWest cuts on Quadra is exported as raw logs?

We don’t know for sure, but the likelihood that most of the logs cut on Quadra Island—from TimberWest’s TFL 47 and from the 11 woodlot licences—end up being exported as raw logs is evident from Ministry of Forests’ records. In 2019, for example (the last year for which data is available on the total volume of logs exported), TimberWest advertised the availability of about 89,000 cubic metres from Gowlland Harbour. (Companies wishing to export raw logs must advertise them to BC buyers before the logs can be exported.) The total volume cut by all tenure holders on Quadra in 2019 was 98,143 cubic metres.

So it appears that 90 percent of the volume logged on Quadra that year was intended for export as raw logs. The Ministry of Forests’ records also show that 84 percent of the total volume that was advertised in 2019 was exported, so it’s very likely that 80 to 90 percent of the trees logged on Quadra Island in 2019 were exported as raw logs.

(This situation likely applies to logging in TimberWest’s TFL 47 on Sonora, East Thurlow and West Thurlow, too.)

That high level of log exports would put the jobs per 1000 cubic metre measure very close to .33 (one-third of a job per 1000 cubic metres)—only one-fifth the level of employment per 1000 cubic metres that the industry provided in 1965.

What seemed like an acceptable trade-off back in 1965 is now one-fifth of an acceptable trade-off.

Back in 1965, though, the logging industry’s contribution to climate instability, biodiversity collapse, its detrimental impact on salmon fisheries and its amplification of forest fires and flooding were not well understood.

Neither was the industry’s need to be subsidized by the public. (We have estimated the public subsidization of logging on Quadra Island on this page.)

Using the 0ne-third of a job per 1000 cubic metres—which is the provincial average—we have estimated the employment each tenure has provided over the last 12 years.

The provincial average includes thousands of small woodlot licence tenures like those on Quadra Island, so the small scale of those tenures is already reflected in the number we are using. However, it is possible that some or all of the woodlot tenures on Quadra are, for some unknown reason, particularly labour intensive. This project invites individual tenure holders to provide documentary evidence of higher full-time equivalent employment, and we will adjust our numbers to reflect that information if we get it.

One way in which Quadra Island tenures are quite different from the average BC tenure is in the stumpage they pay. In the graph below, the average stumpage paid by Quadra tenure holders over a 12-year period is shown in comparison with the average that was paid across BC (you can see a breakdown for each individual tenure at this page).

As you can see, the Quadra Island woodlots are paying far less stumpage than the provincial average. If Quadra tenures do have a slightly higher level of full-time equivalent employment per 1000 cubic metres than the provincial average, that social benefit is almost certainly going to be offset by the much lower level of stumpage paid by these tenures.

Note that in only 2 of the last 12 years did TimberWest pay a rate of stumpage that was higher than the provincial average for the volume it cut on Quadra Island. So the jobs it provides, too, are being subsidized by lower stumpage payments.

Keep in mind that the stumpage, logging taxes and export fees collected by the BC government for all logging across BC fell far short of even covering the basic cost of forest management provided by the Ministry of Forests. Over the 12 years shown above, that shortfall amounted to almost $1 million each day. This does not include the cost of other, hidden subsidies.

The bottom line is that any employment generated by logging on Quadra Island—and all of the Discovery Islands for that matter—is highly subsidized by BC taxpayers.

But that logging is absolutely necessary, right? Without that logging, the people of BC wouldn’t be able to build and maintain their houses and develop other infrastructure necessary for a healthy economy. Right? 

Nope. Depending on the year and the strength of the international market for forest products, between 80 and 90 percent of the forest harvested in BC is exported in some form. That includes everything from raw logs to wood pellets, pulp to paper, panels, timbers and lumber.

If none of the 27,600 truckloads of logs that were removed from Quadra Island over the last 12 years had been cut, that would have had no impact on the availability of wood products for building in BC. The same applies to 80 to 90 percent of logging across BC.

Once an important part of BC’s colonial economy, the now-highly-mechanized and export-dependent industry has lost 50 percent of its workforce in just the last 20 years and now contributes less than 2 percent of the province’s GDP. As it runs out of old-growth and cuts younger and younger trees, the industry’s viability, especially in light of the huge uncounted costs and the low level of employment, is seriously in doubt.

The tenuous economic nature of the industry is illustrated by a statement made by Mosaic Forest Management’s Chief Forester Domenico Iannidinardo. In 2020, as reported by The Globe and Mail’s Justine Hunter, Iannidinardo claimed that “the company’s cost of harvesting usually exceeds what local mills are paying for logs.” Mosaic made that claim even as it pressured the federal government to remove all restrictions on the export of raw, unprocessed logs to overseas markets.

Is all of this really being done to fund the pensions of former government employees? Yes. TimberWest is owned by the BC Investment Management Corporation and the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, both of which manage funds that are used to pay government employee pensions—including those of the former Ministry of Forests personnel who made the decision to liquidate the forests on the Discovery Islands.

All of this points to the need for completely rethinking what we are doing to forests on the Discovery Islands. The trade-off between the damage done and the jobs provided is no longer acceptable.