A mill owner's view on creating a climate for better forest management in B.C.

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“Most often I will be buying logs from people that are clearing land on Cortes, or doing a bit of logging for whatever reason, and sawmilling for the needs on the island. Most of my lumber is used on the island—it hardly ever goes off,” he explained.

“I sometimes buy salvaged logs that a log salvager gets out of the Toba Inlet, that are washed down the Toba River system and flushed out into the ocean.”

Right now, most mill and wood workers on Cortes get their timber from small-scale or selective logging on-island, or from other sources off-island. But the Ecoforestry Society’s current application to turn Cortes’ Crown lands into a community forest could bring new life to the local industry. If approved, this agreement will give residents the exclusive right to a limited annual harvest, as well as the opportunity to participate in the stewardship of the land’s resources.

“I think that once there’s a regular annual harvest coming off of a Crown community forest area, there are going to be all sorts of people who can figure out how to make a livelihood in some way, shape or form from doing that. And it will probably involve more levels of processing than just the initial milling and breakdown of the logs,” Ellingsen said.

“There’s going to be a great potential for economic benefits to come out of it.”

Industrial logging in BC

Economies around forest management are typically measured by the number of jobs created per thousand cubic metres of harvested timber. Ellingsen says when he started researching the industry in the 90s, he was shocked to discover how poorly British Columbia was doing in comparison to other regions around the world.

“B.C. was less than one job per thousand cubic metres, the Pacific Northwest states was about one and a half,” he said.

In countries like Sweden, he says there were over three jobs per thousand cubic metres. And in Switzerland, where they harvested about one tenth of what B.C. was harvesting at the time, the industry provided up to 11 jobs per thousand cubic metres of timber.

Ellingsen’s point comes back to a major complaint about Canadian forestry from both environmentalists and labour groups—liquidating and shipping raw timber to international markets, and bypassing critical steps in processing that could provide domestic jobs.

“In British Columbia, we just like to either ship it out as round logs or ship it out as minimal cut logs, and let everybody else in the world do the finishing and making the money out of it. Then we buy it back from them if we need it,” said Ellingsen.

“If we were aiming to reduce our cut down to 10 per cent of what we were doing, there would be satisfaction for all interests in the forests of British Columbia, plus a greater likelihood that the forests would be sustainable over the long haul.”

For more on this story, read our ongoing series on coastal B.C. forest issues:

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