When Port Alberni Mayor Ken McRae sees a freighter leaving his coastal sawmilling town loaded with wood, the pride he once felt has turned to a deep concern for the future of the British Columbia coastal forest industry.
Once those ships were loaded with lumber. Now, half the cargo is logs.
Log exports have exploded in B.C. in the last few months, largely to feed China’s voracious appetite for fibre. McRae is not opposed to exports; they have a place in a healthy industry, he said. But he fears China’s appetite for B.C. logs is going to cut into manufacturing here.
“China, Korea and Japan are paying more for logs than most of our sawmillers can afford. It’s a huge issue that’s going to come back to bite us,” he said in an interview.
McRae is not the only one who sees a structural change taking place in the global forest industry with huge implications for B.C. China is switching from relying on the vast forests of the Russian Far East, where log exports are now restricted, to the countries of the Pacific Rim, said Gerry Van Leeuwen, vice-president of the research firm International Wood Markets. And B.C., which still accounts for a small piece of China’s log import pie, is China’s fastest-growing source of fibre in a string of countries around the Pacific.
For the first three months of 2011, B.C. coast loggers harvested 3.5 million cubic metres of logs. Almost 40 per cent of those logs, 1.3 million cubic metres, were exported, a 300-per-cent increase over the same period of 2009.