By Duncan Brown
Travelling between the Tansor turnoff and Lake Cowichan is quite the eye opener.
In that 20-minute drive you can often count nine to 12 truckloads of logs leaving our valley and this goes on seven days a week. All this makes me reflect on the glory days of the Cowichan Valley - doted with large sawmills in Honeymoon Bay, Mesachie Lake and Youbou- all running full tilt. What a different time it must have been with vibrant communities prospering from good wages, paying taxes and building a good life for working families.
Now the mills are gone and we watch our valley's lifeblood rumble down the highway. I may find myself in disagreement with my logging friends over annual rates of cut or the value of the Forest Practices Code, both of which impact on the sustainability of our timberlands. We do agree on one issue, though. Our communities are not getting the fair value from the wood that is being harvested.
On a recent trip to the interior, I followed a logging truck for 50 kilometres loaded with timber that on the Coast would be regarded as firewood. I watched as it turned into a sawmill where it would no doubt be milled into 2x4s. Obviously someone is able to make decent money out of this process or they would not be doing it.
Contrast this to the premium logs that vanish from our valley, travelling a short distance from the stump to the water. As these logs leave, so do our jobs and the associated benefits to our communities.
An Order-In-Council passed in 2002 by the Liberals, which allows a further 2.7 million cubic metres of raw logs for export annually, sees us forfeit $144 million dollars in wages in the form of 800 jobs in return for a insignificant $2.7 million in provincial revenue from the $1 per cubic metre fee on exported timber.
For the first part of the '90s in B.C. the raw log exports never exceeded one per cent of the provincial cut. However, since 1997 the volume has increased 600 per cent. More than 11 per cent of coastal timber is exported without any value added at all. In 2003, four million cubic metres of raw logs were exported out of B.C., which resulted in the loss of more than 3,000 jobs in BC.
Why are we not milling this wood into lumber? The Americans certainly do.
Amazingly one of the standard explanations for this behaviour is the contention that we do no have the mill capacity to process these logs, but in fact between 1997 and 2002, 11 sawmills - like Youbou - closed permanently because there was not enough wood to keep them operational.
The U.S. has imposed a punitive tariff on our lumber, such a 2X4s, while still having unrestricted access to our logs. This enables them to plunder our primary resource, logs, while suppressing our value-added sawmilling capacity.
This is our reserve, the source of wealth that belongs to our communities. The province has colluded with private venture to rob us of our birthright for a fast buck. No one could possibly do a worse job of managing this resource than these profiteers have done and it is high time we said so.