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  • BC'S current logging industry should be allowed to fail

    Anthony Britneff

    We need to move from “fibre exploitation” to forest reparation. Only if we manage forests for the sustainability of biodiversity, soil, air and water can we derive through sustainable use of forest resources the economic and social benefits that intact forest ecosystems bestow.


    IN TWO DECADES, employment in British Columbia’s forest industry has fallen by more than 40,000 direct jobs, and the industry today contributes only two per cent to B.C.’s gross domestic product while employing only two per cent of the province’s workers.

    Given this, why all the hullabaloo about the loss of 300 Canfor jobs in Prince George? And why another knee-jerk government response in the form of a new subsidy, amounting to $90-million?

    This is the same old pattern repeating itself, a pattern of subsidization following an industry downturn that has contributed to the decline of the very industry that the subsidies ironically purported to support.

    A flagrant example of government subsidies that has accelerated the crisis in our forests is a Ponzi scheme known as “crediting,” which awards some of the biggest forest companies in the province with more trees to cut down when they deliver “lower quality” logs to the province’s wood pellet and wood pulp industries.

    Examples of other direct subsidies that have accelerated the loss of the province’s forests include those for forest management and electricity. The largest subsidies by far are indirect such as those for carbon and for the loss of carbon sequestration capacity. In recent years, the annual cost of all these subsidies is roughly equivalent to the industry’s contribution to the provincial GDP.

    More beguiling than subsidies is industry propaganda. Through misrepresentation about sustainable forest management, the industry bamboozles the public and importers of B.C.’s forest products with phoney certification schemes. The federal competition board is presently investigating two certification schemes for misrepresentation.

    Even government politicians and senior government officials, who should know better, parrot the rhetoric of “sustainability” and sing the praises of certification, sending a false signal to the public that all is well.

    Acting as a suction pump for public subsidies, the industry—dominated on the coast by Western Forest Products and in the interior by Canfor and West Fraser—directly controls most of the timber in public forests and is largely self-regulated—quirkily known as professional reliance.

    Given excessive subsidies and self-regulation, no one should expect the industry to rationalize its activities in the public interest by lowering the boom on logging, processing more logs in B.C. and reinvesting profits in secondary manufacturing facilities in the province.

    Anyone doubting this need only ask why BC forest companies have invested so heavily over the last few years in mills and forest operations in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, the Carolinas, Georgia and Louisiana.

    B.C.’s industry as presently constituted needs to fail completely, as must the weak legislative framework that allows it to clear-cut most of the province’s primary and old-growth forests to the detriment of biodiversity, soil, air and water.



    Many millions of hectares of BC have been logged, burned, replanted and then burned again by forest fires—to the point of exhaustion. The image above shows 1700 hectares, now typical of the tortured Chilcotin Plateau.


    We need to move from “fibre exploitation” to forest reparation. Only if we manage forests for the sustainability of biodiversity, soil, air and water can we derive through sustainable use of forest resources the economic and social benefits that intact forest ecosystems bestow.

    To do this, legislation must be repealed and re-written to place ecosystem management on a legally enforceable footing and forestry schools must be renamed: for example, the UBC Faculty of Forestry might be renamed the UBC Faculty of Ecology. Foresters are a failed profession in B.C.

    Meanwhile, the export of raw logs and egregiously low-value products like wood pellets must be immediately halted. By curtailing these exports, we can reduce the supply of timber to move toward a sustainable rate of logging that provides for the economic needs of British Columbians to build houses and to make furniture and other value-added products.

    Let the entrepreneurs have free-market access to the timber they need to build small-scale, community-based, secondary manufacturing facilities. This could be achieved by cancelling tenures and forest licences and by auctioning all publicly owned timber at regional log markets.

    But here expectations must be tempered. The promise of value-added only works if there are healthy forests containing quality wood. First, though, we must immediately bring logging rates way down and start to build a new, value-focussed industry from the ground up.

    Anthony Britneff is a Victoria resident who worked for the B.C. Forest Service for 40 years holding senior professional positions in inventory, silviculture and forest health.

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    Perfect Anthony. Thank you. Clearcutting has reduced our net total provincial biomass by 5-20 billion tonnes, on the order of 70% of biomass per hectare degraded. It didn't "grow back" after all. We've degraded 25 million hectares at least, almost the entire available forestry base, through clearcutting. Our goal, as you say, needs to be healing our forests back to mature stands that approach pre-contact levels of economic value and provision of ecosystem services.

    My shopping list for how to get our 70% of biomass back:

    • Re-start the Forest Service under the Environment Ministry.
    • Rescind the Tenure/Tree Farm Licence legislation, sign no new deals, let all current deals run down. (Tenure does not conform to DRIPA).
    • Ban clearcutting, under the criminal code, citing irreparable harm to the  economy, biodiversity and climate change, specifically jobs, floods and fires. Mandate Net Zero Forestry, where zero net biomass is lost in watersheds measured annually.
    • Pass a specific law under DRIPA that First Nations must be signatories to any agreement authorising any resource extraction on their territory, with VETO power.
    • Ban off-shore log sales. Ban exporting industrial pellets.
    • Make Woodland Mountain Caribou protected as the provincial animal!

    Great minds think alike. Are any politicians ready to go down in history as visionaries who would dare save us from societal collapse due to corporate greed?

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    I have little sympathy left for the BC forest industry. Even forest industry union workers are engaged in a race to the bottom--membership plummeting, protecting an ever diminishing work force instead of protecting the resource itself. 

    The NDP and Liberal governments are still living in the past, supporting an increasingly economically irrelevant industry--by default--because they always have. 

    While the government appears blind, BC citizens are seeing that the emperor has no clothes. 

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    Well said, Anthony.

    Does anyone know of any other industry in BC that would so readily receive multi-million dollar subsidies from government when economic conditions go south? I don't.

    The construction industry, which is much larger than the logging-milling industry, is expected to downsize itself during unfavourable market conditions in BC. Construction workers migrate to other locations when the real estate market in BC slumps.

    The same expectation applies to all other forms of labour in BC.

    But for the logging industry, corporate welfare always kicks in, and quickly. This has the long-term result of exhausted forests and workers that end up believing— wrongly—that they must be foundational to the province's economic well being. Only 10 to 20 percent of what's logged in BC ends up being used in BC.

    This history of unrealistic and unwarranted support for the logging-for-export industry by government seems to make those working in the industry super aggressive about their right to access "fibre", and we now know they will push this sense of entitlement right to the last commercially attractive tree.

    I have summarized the less obvious subsidies government provides this failing industry here. Without these subsidies, which no other industry in BC could ever expect to receive, we would have a logging industry just large enough to meet the actual need for forest products in BC.

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    Guest Change the AAC levels


    The over-riding process that determines and supports the level of forest harvesting in BC is the TSR AAC Determination process.   Currently and inherently, this process is designed and manipulated to keep BC's AAC as high as possible for as long as possible---and it has been and continues to be very successful in achieving these two goals.  

    Until this process and it's associated methodology are changed, BC's forests will continue to be harvested at the rate they always have been.  Far to high.

    To facilitate this change, a panel of three people (similar to the old Growth review panel) should be appointed and given the task of formally reviewing it. A part of this work their report should include recommendations for change.

    The government should then ask for public comments on it and then implement the relevant and appropriate recommendations emanating from these two processes.

    Doing so is, without question, in the best interests of the people of BC.  

    Failing to do so is only in the interests of the forest licensees.

    I urge everyone to lobby for such a review.

    Fred Marshall

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    No question, our provincial government is insane! The people have made it clear that they are opposed to the current methods of forestry. Yet the NDP continues to blindly support the forest industry, who are intent in wrecking the forest ecosystem, and the economy with it.

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    Great article, Anthony. Thanks for your commitment to increasing public awareness. The one comment I would make is that I don’t agree forestry is a failed profession. Professional reliance has failed, I think most would agree. But wasn’t it doomed to fail? It is unreasonable to expect an individual professional forester working for a corporation to serve both private and public interests in an economic/political/legislative environment where corporate directors have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize short-run ROI for their shareholders. That is prima facie in conflict with the public interest to safeguard the long-run sustainability of a healthy natural world for current and future generations of humans and all life. On top of that, we have perverse social media algorithms that do nothing to increase collective intelligence but in fact serve only to hijack our emotions and deepen polarization of the citizenry. I have watched with dismay as posts on Facebook attempting to inform people about forest practices have erupted into ad hominen attacks and created division, mistrust and deepened animosity. In the end, we have a poorly informed, rivalrous citizenry on top of the perverse market incentives with a pricing system that does not include externalities such as the impact of forest practices on water, biodiversity, etc. The failures are deep and many and professional foresters are caught in this trap, as are the rest of us. The best we can do is expose the challenges and try to make sense of why we are stuck in this dilemma, as you have done in your article.

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    On 2/1/2023 at 10:38 AM, Margaret Steele said:

    It is unreasonable to expect an individual professional forester working for a corporation to serve both private and public interests


    Hi Margaret, Thank you for your well considered  comment.  In response to the selected quotation from your comment, I remind readers that every clearcut is approved by a government forester, who has sworn an oath of allegiance to the Crown, the trustee of public forests on behalf of the public. 

    Further, that same forester is a member of Forest Professionals BC (new name, previously called the Association of BC Forest Professionals) to which all practising foresters belong.  The Professional Governance Act, which replaced the Foresters Act,  requires  Forest Professionals BC to serve and protect the public interest with respect to the conduct of registered professionals.   

    Furthermore, Forest Professionals BC has a Code of Ethical and Professional Conduct embodied within bylaw 9.  Within this code of ethics, under a section titled "Standard 2 - Independence", a practising forester is required to exhibit objectivity and independence in fact and appearance by, among other requirements, upholding the public interest and professional principles above the demands of employment or personal gain

    So contrary to your assertion, I find it entirely reasonable to expect practising foresters to obey provincial laws and regulations and to abide by the bylaws of their governing body by giving priority to the public interest over the interest of employers.  Most would agree that destruction of public forests (biodiversity, soil, water, carbon and air) is not in the public interest.  What has happened by way of destruction to the forests of the province under the mismanagement of professional foresters over the past 50 years shows me that collectively they are a failed profession.  

    As to the future, I will say that Professor John Innes, the former dean of forestry at UBC, did much to improve the education of forestry students.  My hope is that a new generation of foresters will have a good basic grounding in conservation biology, in hydrology and in forest ecology that will enable them to abhor the extensive destruction of our forests (biodiversity, soil, water, carbon and air) perpetrated by their predecessors through excessive clearcutting and will motivate them to work towards repairing the damage. 

    Finally, I need to acknowledge my part in the collective failure of the profession.  I was a registered professional forester in B.C. for almost four decades.  I resigned my membership on January 7, 2022.  I resigned because, in good conscience, I could no longer belong to Forest Professionals BC when I consider that the harm done by some of its members to biodiversity, soil, water, carbon and air far out-weighs the good done by many members working for the public and private sectors and for some First Nations.  Forest Professionals BC by association and some of its members had become for me agents of ecocide.  

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    Hi Anthony, I totally agree professional foresters working for government and industry have failed to protect the public interest in the natural world. And their professional association has failed to enforce their code of ethics. Of course there are professional foresters like you, Herb, Fred and probably hundreds of others who have and are diligent in their commitment to the public interest.

    I've been thinking alot lately about why our activism is generally not succeeding. Not just in forestry but also in many domains of public interest. I appreciate our exchange as it is helping me deepen my thinking.

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    Once again retired forester Anthony Britneff shows how active he is on behalf of saving B.C. forests from yet more degradation and depredation.

    I write as a British Columbian watching and listening from Oxford, England, whose green environs are under constant threat. In particular by a government-supported scheme called “The Oxford-Cambridge Arc” which the Westminster government and its “central construction command” claim will turn a large area of southern central England into the UK’s silicon valley. This at a time when Silicon Valley is in decline, after decades of doing permanent damage to the Paolo Alto-San Francisco area, a locale from which the techies are now fleeing.

    Mr. Britneff raises the spectre of industry propaganda, giving the example of how glibly and misleadingly the rhetoric of “sustainability” is applied. Mr. Britneff concludes that “Foresters are a failed profession in B.C.” and prefaces this by saying the “the UBC Faculty of Forestry” might be renamed the “UBC Faculty of Ecology.” Let’s hope.

    For decades now I have been involved with eco-campaigns in and around Oxford, notably in support of what is called green belt, land protected by statute from development. Yet it is now very easy for planning inspectors to close down that protection in favour of the mass building of carbon-spewing housing—and worse.

    Recently a member of the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission, chaired by a construction oligarch, stated that those who oppose the Oxford-Cambridge Arc should be declared traitors to the national interest and a bill currently going through the Westminster Parliament is seeking to outlaw protests and demonstrations.

    Mr. Britneff sets out what needs to be done to save B.C. forests and, by extension, the province's biodiversity, in the best interests of everyone.

    The UK has led the world in degrading the natural environment. If Mr Britneff and his colleagues’ words aren’t heeded, it won’t be long before Canada catches up.

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    The first President Bush isn’t the only one who has struggled or is struggling with “the vision thing.”  Be it the need to protect the global climate or B.C.’s forests—meaning we must become wiser and much more responsible stewards of both—vision to achieve these transitions from where we are now to where we need to get to (and as quickly as possible) is sorely lacking.

    Oh, to be a fly on the wall of the room where the B.C. government made the decision to provide Canfor with a new subsidy of $90 million in the face of 300 lost Canfor jobs in Prince George.  What was the government’s rationale?  Because we’ve always done it this way, even if it’s proven not to be tried and true?  Because we think it’s necessary if we want to be seen as politically competitive in the Prince George region and if we want to retain the allegiance of our trade union partners?

    Could the government have huddled and consulted with these partners and other stakeholders to holistically develop and pursue a vision of and for forest reparation, enabled by legally enforceable ecosystem management?  Why couldn’t the aforementioned $90 million have been a first installment toward the creation of a vision of forest reparation and sustainability, the commencement of work to achieve that vision, and supports to provide a fair and just transition during the interim?

    Questions for the government: Do you have the will to act in this manner?  Do you have the capacity to genuinely lead and enable?

    We need both vision and the will to implement it if we are to achieve the level of stewardship required of us.

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    I couldn’t agree more!  I’ve always said the only solution to something this mangled and corrupted is to push it over the edge, and start anew; and that includes the failed regulatory framework (i.e. the shadowy ministry known as Forests Lands & Natural Resource Operations) that has, at every twist and turn, enabled this relentless monster to deprive British Columbians of their democratic privileges (rights?) and the foundation of our society, our land, forests, and water.  The missing link for citizens has always been the absence of a public involvement and “control” mandate which could have and should have been enabled by a declared and legislated Public Trust doctrine.

    Sadly, this NDP government, and previous ones, have taken almost every wrong turn when it comes to protecting the only thing that British Columbians have in common, our land. The latest, and most troubling and destructive agenda, is the theft of public land and regulatory authority from the public trust in a misguided and treasonous effort too appease Indian leadership / bands / and the immense, lawyer-laden Indian “industry”.

     As long as diversion of authority, money and assets to special interest like Indian bands is a dominant political agenda (look at who new Premier Eby now has as insiders / advisers in his office), divisive and diversionary agendas, like land giveaways under the name of social justice, will cripple land and forest reform and hamstring the management and conservation science behind it.

     Its been nothing short of a brilliant diversionary strategy (devised by the NDP in secret meetings, and virtually without public discussion or endorsement) that appeals to the noisy virtuous minority in society but has totally befuddled the public and almost all environmental groups;  but the ugly consequences will plague land and forest management and conservation for decades if not longer.

     Dr. Brian L. Horejsi

    Ecologist and public interest advocate

    Penticton, B.C. 

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    2 hours ago, Guest Brian L. Horejsi said:

     As long as diversion of authority, money and assets to special interest like Indian bands is a dominant political agenda (look at who new Premier Eby now has as insiders / advisers in his office), divisive and diversionary agendas, like land giveaways under the name of social justice, will cripple land and forest reform and hamstring the management and conservation science behind it.

    Just to be clear, Brian, the courts have recognized Indigenous land title and rights and the BC government has to abide by those court decisions. You might be right that the government led by John Horgan delayed implementation of the old growth strategic review panel's recommendations on the basis of the need to consult with First Nations governments, but we can't blame Indigenous governments for that, which it sounds like you are doing. Correct me if I am wrong.

    We are not going to get "forest reform" without that reform being led by Indigenous people and Indigenous wisdom about the land. That's now settled. It was their land, it was stolen, and over time they are going to get it back, or at least the right to decide what happens on their lands. We all need to work within that reality. I am looking forward to it.

    The only interest group we really need to worry about is that tiny segment of settler culture in BC who see forests strictly as a commodity to be traded. Unfortunately, right now, that 19th century mode of thinking is still powerful enough that it is allowed to continue to degrade whatever land it touches.

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    As a recipient of the Order of Canada for my environmental work, I have long been critical of the perspectives on forestry provided by the Forests Ministry, foresters and the forest industry.

    Retired forester Anthony Britneff’s perspective resonates with me. He exposes the truth.

    In spite of all the good work done by so many in both the private and public sectors to change the government's and industry’s destructive behaviour, the mismanagement and state of our public forests have markedly worsened over the past 30 years. Britneff in rapid fire provides most of the reasons why forest governance and management in B.C. have to radically change.

    We must act now with scrapping the old forest industry and bad management before it is too late. Put legally enforce­able conservation values and protection as the foundation for new legislation and for management into the future. And immediately protect what little is left of the endangered old-growth forests and the rich biodiversity of animals within them.

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    I agree with your comment Anthony about the "profession."  I resigned in (2009) for the same reasons.  One piece of legislation that I would like to see changed - and that nobody seems to talk about - is Section 16 of the Forest and Range Practices Act.  This section states, "The minister must approve a forest stewardship plan or an amendment to a forest stewardship plan if it conforms to Section 5" (the emphasis on "must" is mine). This is an example of Gordon Campbell giving his pals in the forest industry what they wanted. This sentence substantially takes away government oversite regarding what does and what does not get logged. As long as the forest licensee can 'check off the boxes' outlined in Section 5, the minister by law must approve the logging plans. 

    So, when a forest licensee decides to "develop" (I hate this terminology) a previously unlogged drainage there really is no one in government making the value judgement as whether this really is in the best interests of the public.  As long as the boxes are checked off the logging plans must be approved (Fairy Creek is an example of this). When the Forest Practices Code was still around - before Gordon Campbell threw the baby out with the bathwater - Ministry of Forests district managers where responsible for this (they did not like the responsibility). In theory landscape unit planning was supposed to identify areas that should be reserved from logging, but this process has fallen apart because in my opinion, it was time consuming, and the forest industry folks did not want it.

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    As a taxpayer, I find Anthony Britneff's commentary worrisome.  In B.C. we have been massively subsidizing a forest industry that invests its enormous profits in the southern United States and exports 80 per cent of its forest products to China, Japan and the USA all at the expense of severe damage to the long-term health and productivity of B.C.'s forests. 

    Also, this B.C. industry, unlike any other industry that I know of, receives multi-million dollar subsidies from the public purse to support its labour force when market conditions become unfavourable, whereas, in other industries labour is expected to migrate during market downturns. In other countries an unsubsidized failing industry located in a one-industry town eventually perishes.  Painful though this is for those whose jobs disappear, this is economically efficient and rational.  Why, then, is the forest industry in B.C. treated differently?

    It seems clear to me that it is high time to let the free market rationalize this industry by cutting off subsidies, by putting a market price on the carbon that logging releases into the atmosphere and, as Britneff suggests, by putting up for auction at regional log markets all timber logged from public forests.

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    I'm a retired forester with a 40-year career in BC.  Throughout those years I've had the privilege to practice the kind of forest management that Anthony mentions in his article.   I want to tell you from experience that a completely different vision of managing our forests is entirely possible.  
    Gentle Forest Stewardship -  Over the years, I made use of partial cutting systems to implement a much gentler vision of forestry.  Surprisingly, there are many "silvicultural systems" available to foresters other than clear cutting.  These gentle systems have garnered public support because they respect how forests naturally function and how they protect values like water, wildlife, views and recreation.   I used to love taking people out to look at cutblocks that used these systems.  I would drive by several cutblocks without saying anything and then ask "well what do you think of the logging"?  Invariably, they would respond, "what logging"?   However, foresters have failed to make use of these systems to the detriment of healthy, diverse forests.  For them, maximizing corporate profits demands the use of clear cutting almost exclusively.  That system results in even-aged, simplistic stands in what I call "cornfield forestry".  Consequently, I support Anthony's call to remove the responsibility of managing BC's forests from the hands of foresters.  Changing our vision, and the people who implement it, requires scrapping our present forest legislation and replacing it with laws that favour the public interest instead of corporate greed.  We need to employ other professions, as well as First Nations, who care for and genuinely respect nature-based forestry.
    Diversifying the Forest Economy - We need to transcend from a low value/high volume economy to one of high value that requires fewer logs.  We can employ more workers per unit of wood while logging less.  How is that possible?  We had a great example in this province.  I was involved in a government-run log yard in Vernon that operated from 1993-2002.  That log yard proved that there are many more products and much more value in our timber.  The idea is simple.  Like Anthony mentions, regional government-operated log yards can be a powerful mechanism to stimulate a whole different forest economy.   In those log yards the logs are sorted into products and sold on the open market via sealed tender auction to anyone. Yes, anyone, not just privileged licensees.  Over the years our log yard manager, Tom Milne, responded to ideas from customers that ultimately resulted in 52 different products!  Some examples include: wooden arrow shafts, roping saddle frames, guitar tops, feature logs in log homes, custom boxes for expensive wine, etc.  As well, the Vernon log yard sold standard products like sawlogs, peelers and poles.  It's a field of dreams: "if you build it they will come".  
    We can have fully functioning forests that protect the public interest.  We can reduce the burden on our forests by cutting less while generating many more jobs per cubic metre logged.  A complete overhaul of our forestry vision and economy is essential.  We have the tools and experience to make it happen.  We can't continue to dither any longer.   These opportunities will soon disappear, while the timber baron's move on, leaving us with degraded forests and few options.
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