This record was compiled by BC's Ministry of Environment and shows the estimated volume harvested each year. Around 1950, an allowable annual cut (AAC) began to be enforced, and that volume is represented by the darker green colour. The volume "Not Regulated by Allowable Annual Cut" is, after 1950, essentially logging on private land.
This graph compares the public subsidization of the BC forest industry with the Province of BC's estimate of industry GDP. The GDP figures are provided by BC Stats (see attachment below). To see how the public subsidization was calculated, see this story.
THIS DATA, from the Ministry of Forests and BC Stats, shows that in 2019, the logging industry had to cut twice the volume of forest—compared with 1965—for every direct job it provided. The lower level of employment is the result of lower-value wood and mechanization of the industry. Since 2019 there has been an uptick in the number of jobs per 1000 cubic metres logged. The historical long-term decline in industry jobs is illustrated by the second graph below.
CONTINUED EXPORT OF RAW LOGS not only results in destruction of forest ecosystems, greater areas of higher fire hazard and more climate change, it exports thousands of future job-years of employment every year it continues. This graph uses jobs data from BC Stats and the most recently available raw log export volumes from the ministry of forests to determine the number of jobs in wood product manufacturing and the pulp and paper industry that are lost due to log exports.
Noteworthy is the steady decline in raw log exports—and jobs—which mirrors the decline in the total volume of logs cut in BC since 2018.
You may have heard the Council of Forest Industries make claims about the number of trees planted every year, or that almost 2 trees are replanted for every tree cut down. These are not accurate or useful measures of the extent to which logged areas are replanted. A much more meaningful number is the annual deficit, or surplus, in the area replanted compared to the area logged.
The graph below, which uses two different ministry of forests accounts of the area logged, shows the difference between the area logged and the area replanted. The black lines reflect that difference using the ministry's publicly available account of the area logged each year. But this is quite different than the actual area of Crown land logged using the ministry's RESULTS Openings data, which is reflected in the deficit indicated by the red lines. That data is only available to registered users.
Using the RESULTS data, the accumulated area that was logged but not replanted between 2000 and 2017 was around 1.2 million hectares, which is roughly equivalent to about 5 years of logging over an 18 year period.
Claims by the industry and the ministry that logged areas are being replanted are simply untrue. By how much this is untrue depends on whether you trust the data the ministry makes publicly available, or trust the data that's only easily accessible to registered users.
This graph, based on ministry of forests data, shows the trend in the area of BC logged each year. Data has been mapped as 5-year averages to smooth out the data so that the trend can more easily be seen. The dip shown at 2013 includes the years 2009 to 2013, during which period the world financial collapse occurred.
Over the period shown here, the average cut rose from 191,000 hectares per year to 240,000 hectares per year. As less and less primary forest remains as time goes on, this figure would rise unless the volume logged (AAC) is reduced.
Since negative effects caused by clearcut logging—such as increase in area burned by forest fire and magnitude of floods are related to the total area logged, those effects appear set to get worse unless the cut is reduced.
IT'S A COMMON PERCEPTION that fires and the Mountain Pine Beetle have done most of the damage to BC forests over the past 20 years. The ministry of forests and the industry have encouraged belief in this misperception. In fact, logging has been the largest cause of forest loss. It's true that some of the logging was done to salvage beetle-killed lodgepole pine, but over the 10 years since the ministry of forests created its dead pine salvage program, that salvage amounted to only 15 percent of the total cut in BC. Logging of live trees accounted for 85 percent of the cut, as shown in the graph below.
WHEN A CUTBLOCK IS LOGGED in BC, approximately 50 percent of the original living biomass is left in the clearcut as roots, stumps, unmerchantable tops, branches, part of the otherwise merchantable stem that are decayed, broken or wasted, small trees that are killed as collateral damage, the understory of plants, dead trees and course woody debris.
Of the merchantable stems that are removed as logs, what happens to them?
An unknown fraction are lost along the way, mainly by escaping from booms and/or sinking. But of those that make it to mills, about 52 percent of that volume is turned into wood chips or sawdust, according to the ministry of forests Major Mills Survey. This is used for making pulp and paper and various other short-lived products, like burnable, compressed sawdust pellets. These products account for about 26 percent of the original forest’s biomass.
The other 48 percent of the volume of logs is milled into sawn lumber or turned into veneer or panel boards like plywood and OSB. Of these wood products, roughly 80 percent is exported, mainly to 3 countries: the USA, China and Japan. These exports account for about 19 percent of the forest’s original biomass.
The lumber products that are used in BC account for less than 5 percent of the original biomass of the forest that was logged.
The diagram below is the ministry’s account of “fibre flows” that result from BC’s logging activity. Keep in mind that this only accounts for about half of the biomass that is killed as a result of logging.
THE GRAPH BELOW uses the value of 90 megatonnes as the baseline from which BC's natural forest carbon sequestration capacity has fallen. Even that level is likely below the natural capacity of BC forestlands to absorb atmospheric carbon. The gray bars represent the amount of carbon BC forests did not absorb each year that they could have if not for logging, the Mountain Pine Beetle, and unexpectedly large forest fires. Logging accounts for just over one-half of the forest carbon sequestration capacity loss since 2000.
THIS GRAPH ILLUSTRATES that, since the early 1970s, the area being clearcut each year on public land in BC is growing steadily even though the volume of wood obtained has fallen. This reflects the steady increase in the proportion of lower-volume second-growth clearcutting taking place as old-growth forests are steadily liquidated. To get the same volume from second-growth forests, a significantly larger area needs to be cut. Unless the size of the forest industry in BC is reduced, the cumulative impacts of having such a large area of the provincial forest in a bare, clearcut state, or as young regrowth, will be significant. The negative impacts on wildlife habitat, hydrological function and the risk of fire will all grow.
Many thanks to Dave Leversee for the number crunching for this graph.
ACCORDING TO THE MINISTRY OF FORESTS, the Timber Harvesting Land Base—the area of publicly owned forested land on which logging can occur—was about 22 million hectares in areal extent in 2022. (This has dropped in 2023 to about 20.3 million hectares due to priority old-growth deferrals). There are approximately 2 million hectares of privately-owned forested land in BC, about half of which is classified as managed forest and subject to the Private Managed Forest Land Act. Since about one-tenth of the loggable forested land is privately owned, we might expect about one-tenth of the volume of trees cut in BC to come from private land. This varies from year to year. For example, in 2020, 9 percent of the cut was on private land. In 2022, that increased to 15 percent. Over the 23-year period covered below, logging on private land accounted for 10 percent of the total volume cut.
THERE HAS BEEN A DECLINE in the volume of logs cut on public land in BC. This decline is more gradual than the decline in direct jobs, which were cut in half over this period. The industry and forests ministry attribute the decline in available volume to the Mountain Pine Beetle outbreak, which peaked in 2006, to forest fires and to more protected lands being created. But logging has removed more volume than both the beetle and fires combined, and there has been little additional land set aside for conservation during this time. As old forest continues to be liquidated and younger, lower-volume second-growth forests have become a larger fraction of the cut, volumes have inevitably declined. This is the so-called fall-down effect.
The anomalous dip around 2009 was due to the crash in American housing starts that resulted from the world financial crisis at that time.
The volume cut in 2022, a year of record high prices, was even lower than 2009.
THERE ARE ABOUT 2 MILLION HECTARES of forested private land in BC. Just over half of that is classified as managed forest and is subject to the Private Managed Forest Land Act. A significant portion of private land managed under the Act is on Vancouver Island under the ownership of either TimberWest or Island Timberlands. Since 2000, privately-owned forest land has contributed about 10 percent of the total volume cut in BC.
This graph uses data from the Province of BC’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory. It shows that the capacity of BC forests to sequester carbon from the atmosphere held steady at about 90 megatonnes per year through the 1990s but began to drop rapidly in about 1999. In 2018 and 2019 net carbon sequestration was below zero. This annual loss in carbon sequestration capacity is larger than BC’s official account of its non-forest-related carbon emissions. Restoration of this ability of BC forests to absorb carbon emissions would occur naturally if the cut in BC was lowered to the level needed to meet BC’s own needs for wood products.
The forest industry and the ministry of forests claim that the Mountain Pine Beetle and forest fires are responsible for the large loss of volume from BC forests during this time. They neglect to include logging, which the ministry’s own data shows accounted for about 60 percent of all volume lost during this period of decline.
When a BC forest products company is announcing another mill will curtail its operations or is closing permanently, the company will often link the change to the loss of "merchantable timber" that has resulted from the Mountain Pine Beetle outbreak or large forest fires. BC mainstream media make this claim often, too. Such loss of jobs are never linked to the extensive logging that has occurred. But the ministry of forests own data shows that logging accounted for 60.5 percent of the loss of merchantable timber between 2000 and 2019. The beetle caused 30.5 percent of the loss and fires the remaining 9 percent. The year-by-year account of those losses is shown below.
THE EVERGREEN ALLIANCE is creating a fulsome account of all the benefits the forest industry receives by not having to pay for something that the general public does pay for, or paying a lower rate. Together, we call these the public subsidy.
(1) The forest management subsidy: The cost of the ministry of forests' operations related to forestry are significantly greater than such revenue as stumpage, the BC Logging Tax, and export fees. The difference must be paid for from the public purse. Our numbers were obtained through FOI requests for the ministry's records of operational costs related to forests, as well as other costs such as benefits obligations and capital expenses. We also FOIed the ministry's record of forest-related income.
(2) The electrical energy subsidy: This subsidy arises because there is a difference between what BC Hydro charges major forest industry customers and what it charges residential customers. Hydro penalizes residential consumers who use more electrical energy, but private forestry companies, who use much more energy, get a much lower rate. Information about the electricity subsidy was obtained through an FOI request of BC Hydro's records related to electrical energy consumption by the BC forest industry.
(3) The carbon emissions subsidy was based on our estimates of carbon prematurely released as a result of logging in BC, and the applicable carbon tax in the year the emissions were created. The general public must pay a tax on the use of hydrocarbon fuels because using it results in carbon dioxide being released to the atmosphere. As a result of forestry activities, far more carbon dioxide is released to the atmosphere but the BC Carbon Tax is not applied. This amounts to a public subsidy of the forest industry. The values for this subsidy were calculated using the ministry of forests harvest billing system and scientific studies.
(4) The loss of carbon sequestration capacity subsidy is based on the annual difference between the provincial estimate of carbon sequestration capacity and the carbon sequestration capacity estimated by the Province during the 1990s. The cost of each year's loss is based on the value of the BC Carbon Tax in the corresponding year.
Read more about these subsidies in our section devoted to this subject
The great need to utilize the capacity BC forests could play in mitigating climate change is illustrated by the graph below. In 2008, BC enacted legislation setting a target for provincial emissions reduction by 2030. The most gradual pathway to that target is illustrated by the green line. BC's actual emissions—the ones BC has decided to count—have continued to climb, however, as illustrated by the red line below. Logging of BC forests during that time created far more carbon emissions than burning hydrocarbons produced. As well, logging contributed to 60 percent of the loss of forest carbon sequestration capacity during that time, itself a reduction almost as large as provincial emissions from non-forestry-related activities. While the Province tracks forest-related emissions and loss of carbon sequestration capacity, it currently has no plans to conserve forests to mitigate climate change.
The graph below shows the relative volumes of the cut on the coast, the southern interior, and the norther interior of BC. It also shows the allowable annual cut set by the chief forester, and the mid-term harvest level, both of which are established by periodical timber supply reviews. 2020 marked the first year during this period when the actual cut was lower than the mid-term harvest level. The mid-term harvest level is the level of cut that would be theoretically volumetrically sustainable—based on the ministry of forests computer modelling of forest growth and yield—out to about 50 years from current date. The ministry's estimate of this level is questionable for a number of reasons.
THE GRAPH BELOW shows that the average harvested volume per hectare on Crown land has fallen from a level of about 450 cubic metres per hectare in the 1970s to current levels of around 260 cubic metres. The decline is the result of the shift from logging old-growth forests to, increasingly, logging managed stands.
To maintain a given harvest volume under such circumstances, the area logged each year is growing over time. In 1973, logging on 123,000 hectares produced 57 million cubic metres. In 2018, 230,000 hectares were logged, producing 62.2 million cubic metres.
To maintain a given annual volume of cut will result in an ever larger area being clearcut each year.
Between 2000 and 2022, direct employment in the BC forest industry was cut in half, falling from just over 100,000 jobs to just over 50,000. Over this same period the volume cut fell by 30 percent. The loss of jobs per unit of volume cut is mainly the result of increased mechanization of logging and milling operations.
In the year 2000, BC's forest industry contributed $5.2 billion to BC's GDP. That represented aboput 3.5 percent of BC's total GDP. By 2019, the forest industry's contribution to GDP had grown to $5.42 billion. The overall BC economy had grown much larger, however and the GDP was $252 billion. The forest industry's share of the GDP fell to about 2 percent. The forest industry now contributes about the same value to provincial GDP as the telecommunications industry.
OVER THE TEN YEARS from 2010 to 2019, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (under different names) spent $10.74 billion and took in $7.3 billion in revenue, according to documents obtained by FOI and cross-referenced with annual ministry service plans and BC budgets. Based on those numbers, the ministry's forests-related losses over that 10-year period were $3.44 billion, or an average of approximately $942,000 per day. That loss was incurred almost entirely to manage BC's forests so they could be logged by the forest industry. The Evergreen Alliance considers this cost to be a public subsidy of the forest industry.
Between 2001 and 2019, British Columbia lost forest cover on 7.88 million hectares of land. That number was determined by Global Forest Watch, which analyses satellite images to estimate forest loss around the globe. In BC's case, according to Canada's National Forestry Database, logging accounted for 3.9 million hectares of that loss. The other half was the result of forest fires and insects, mainly the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation in BC's Interior. When compared with the most-forested nations on a per capita basis, BC's record of total forest cover loss is, by far, the worst.
It's well-known that the Mountain Pine Beetle attack on Lodgepole Pine tree had a heavy impact on BC's forests during this period. As well, the province has experienced more frequent large forest fires than the historical frequency of such fires. Yet if we count only the forest cover loss as a result of logging, BC still has a considerably worse record than any of the most-forested nations.
While Russia and Brazil both had a higher absolute loss of forest cover, they also have much greater populations than BC. It's only when forest cover loss is considered on a per capita basis that we can see how haywire our rate of logging is compared to other countries.
Our over-exploitation of BC's forests is sometimes explained away as just an inescapable aspect of our national character: "Canadians are just hewers of wood and drawers of water."
But the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, both of which are made significantly worse by the vast scale of industrial logging in BC, demand that we change that part of our national character and begin to respond materially to crises which we, on a per capita basis, have played a profoundly significant role.