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Vancouver Island Forestry Industry


Forestry has always been a part of Vancouver Island’s identity, starting first by the First Nation’s people, and then later by the European settlers and current-day loggers. The act of logging has been improved upon over the many years, and nowadays, logging is very cost-effective and efficient.

Vancouver Island is located just off of Vancouver, BC, Canada. Forests cover about 91 % of the island. Only under half of this cover is the original old-growth forest, while the remainder is managed second-growth forest. Vancouver Island is home to some of the world’s most well known old-growth temperate rainforests. Logging, clear-cutting, or selective logging, can have many environmental impacts, including erosion and a loss of biodiversity. Clear-cutting is the most environmentally impacting type of logging. Clear-cutting removes all trees in a specific area, which leaves barren land, which means the ground receives more sunlight than in a heavily forested area. This can lead to dry, loose land, which is more susceptible to erosion and landslides.

Close to 24,000 hectares of forest are logged every year on Vancouver Island, and almost half of that is old-growth forest. The substantial amount of logging that has occurred on Vancouver Island has led the percentage of original old-growth forest to drop below 30 percent, a threshold that ecologists consider “at high ecological risk” of loss of species. Forestry is one of the most important industries in Vancouver Island. In recent times, however, the value of forests has substantially increased for their non-timber values, such as recreation, scenery and tourism.

Image source: Timescolonist 
Image source: Timescolonist 

There are about 8.900 people employed by the forestry market on Vancouver Island, down about 65% from 24.600 in 2006. In some towns on Vancouver Island, the forestry industry makes up somewhere from 1/4 to 1/3 of the total income. The average job in the forestry industry on Vancouver Island also pays nearly 12% more than the average of all other industries.

Approximately 95 percent of B.C.’s forests are publicly owned, allowing the Province to help to determine where, when and how forest resources can be used for the best long-term benefit of its citizens.

Forestry Industry in British Columbia

Logging on Vancouver Island has always been a sensitive topic. There are strong arguments to both sides of the topic, both ecologically and economically. The logging of Vancouver Island has many ecological impacts, especially when areas are clear-cut, but logging also is a great source of income for many families. And can have little to no impact on biodiversity.

After a period of strong economic growth, several of Vancouver Island’s key industries are facing challenges. Timber supply issues and the lack of a softwood lumber agreement with the US are affecting forestry production. 2017 was a challenging year for the forest industry on Vancouver Island as production and employment declined. The production declines were related to the ongoing timber supply issues on Vancouver Island, which worsened in 2017 due to extended winter conditions. Lack of available fiber supply led to reductions in employment in harvesting activities and closure of a mill in Port Alberni.

Another factor was the failure to reach a softwood lumber agreement with the US. In April 2017, the US Department of Commerce announced that it would be imposing preliminary countervailing duties on softwood lumber imports from Canada. Anti-dumping responsibilities followed this in June. In November, a final determination was made and duties were lowered from approximately 27% to approximately 20% on shipments to the US from producers on Vancouver Island. While US demand remained strong and exporters were able to raise prices to cover the duties, shipments to the US from the BC coast declined by 23% compared with 2016.

Strong demand from Asia allowed producers to redirect supply; however, overall production declined by approximately 14% year-over-year. Further declines in production were in 2018. In the first six months of the year, shipments to the US declined by approximately 16 percent year-over-year and overall production was down 9% on the BC Coast. The annual allowable cut for the Arrowsmith Timber Supply Area, on southern Vancouver Island, was reduced in February 2018.

For B.C. sawmill workers and loggers, 2019 was a year of misfortune. Prolonged wet weather in the U.S. delayed the construction season, higher stumpage rates, American duties on softwood lumber, shrinking timber supply and one of the longest strikes ever by sawmill workers on Vancouver Island converged into a perfect storm that left thousands either on picket lines or unemployment lines.

In 2020 B.C. forest industry mired in deepening crisis amid unprecedented seven-month strike. It seems bare a day goes by without an announcement about layoffs, temporary closures or permanent mill shutdowns in British Columbia’s struggling forest industry. As a result, thousands of workers, their families and many communities have been left facing uncertain futures. The layoffs and shutdowns are causing widespread economic and social pain. On Vancouver Island, where Mosaic Forest Management announced an early winter shutdown of timber harvesting operations, 2,000 people are indefinitely out of work.

Nevertheless, forest products manufacturing sector on Vancouver Island remains a vital player within a global industry that, over the past fifty years, has grown at a faster rate than most other manufacturing sectors worldwide. The future for the forest industry in this region remains strong, despite ongoing changes in the industry and policy.