BY: JOYCE NELSON
In September 2014, a new satellite study revealed that Canada is leading the world in forest decline and degradation through clear-cut logging, tar sands development, forest fires, and other forms of resource exploitation. Scientists from the University of Maryland, along with environmental groups Greenpeace, Global Forest Watch, and the World Resources Institute used satellite technology to track the changes in the Earth’s forest cover and found that the pace of decline has been accelerating over the past decade, with Canada now number one in the world for loss of intact forests. The boreal forests of Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta have been particularly hard hit.
The study follows a January 2013 report from Greenpeace, Boreal Alarm, which stated that on average “nearly 1 million hectares (over 2 million acres) is logged in Canada’s boreal forest every year,” and that clearcuts “can reach over 10,000 hectares or more in size.” But at the same time that deforestation has been accelerating, more than 100,000 Canadian forestry workers have lost their jobs. Unifor National President Jerry Dias, who represents unionized forestry workers across Canada, wrote in the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal in June, “Over the last decade, the [forest] industry shed a third of its jobs.”
National Resources Canada (NRCan) acknowledged this situation in its September 2014 annual report on the state of Canada’s forests, noting that while direct employment in the forestry industry continued to decline in 2013 (by 8%), the top ten forest companies “posted their highest operating revenues in 10 years.” In other words, corporate revenues (and forest loss) are rising, but it is not necessarily benefiting workers in the industry. NRCan sees this as a case of the industry “reinventing itself to adapt to the new business environment”—i.e., one with fewer Canadian jobs but an accelerating forest harvest.
After the bottom fell out of the U.S. housing market during the Great Recession, major forest companies in Canada scrambled to find new markets for their biggest exports like softwood lumber, and pulp and paper products. The Harper government stepped in to help.
In 2009, then international trade minister Stockwell Day arranged for the industry to ship huge volumes of pulp to the Middle East—with tariffs removed through a newly signed free trade agreement with Jordan—so that it could be turned into toilet paper. That same June, the federal government announced a $1 billion Green Transformation Fund (GTF) to further help the pulp industry.
The fund, administered by NRCan, was meant to direct financing “to profitable and competitive mills,” with the effect of further encouraging the industry to automate and mechanize, consolidate operations, and shut down many sawmills as companies pulped more of the forests they were cutting down. For example, as a result of the GTF, Montreal based Domtar has been liquidating Canadian forests for pulp
shipped to its new disposable diaper manufacturing plants in the U.S. and Europe.
Some forests are also being turned into a toxic sludge called “dissolving pulp” that is used for cheap fabrics like rayon, viscose, lyocell and modal. Nicole Rycroft, executive director of the Vancouver-based NGO Canopy, says Canada’s and the world’s forests “are being cut down and turned into T-shirts.” Both Canopy and Rainforest Action Network have launched campaigns to convince fashion brands to
stop sourcing from endangered forests, including several in Canada.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of that $1 billion federal giveaway to pulp companies is the use of pulp “for energy efficiency and generation projects,” to be burned as biomass energy for sale to provincial grids. Provincial governments have in turn provided tax credits, capital infusions, carbon credits and other incentives for pulp mills to produce power along with their pulp. Greenpeace Canada’s
2011 report Fuelling a Biomess explained that “whole trees and large areas of forest are being cut to provide wood that is burnt for energy,” a highly inefficient mode of energy production and a costly one for the public.
“We are witnessing a policy shift that is geared towards meeting energy demands by liquidating forests,” said researcher Rob Wiltzen in a 2011 Watershed Sentinel article. “Pulp mill corporations are paid to build the capacity, and then paid for the energy produced, and then paid for the carbon credits they earn by producing ‘renewable’ energy. The market incentive to turn forests into fuel is strong.”
BC Hydro pays as much as $150 per megawatt-hour for this energy, almost four times higher than the base rate that industrial customers pay for hydro. But especially worrying from an environmental and jobs perspective is the sharp increase in raw log exports, especially from B.C.
Raw log exports
According to 2013 figures from Statistics Canada, total raw log exports by province had the following profile: New Brunswick 0.2%; Quebec 0.6%; Ontario 2.4%, and British Columbia 96.8%. This means B.C. is responsible for nearly all of Canada’s raw log exports. Norman Farrell, who runs the blog Northern Insight, wrote in May that these sales (to China, mainly) have been steadily rising since 2009.
“In the last five years, the volume of log exports more than quadrupled from the volumes shipped out of province in the last five years of NDP administration,” Farrell said, adding that the value of these exports has skyrocketed recently. In the years 2008-2010 raw log exports were worth just under $900 million but in the 2011-2013 period that figure more than doubled to over $1.9 billion. That produces a huge
profit for companies like Canfor, which no longer have to maintain mills (and jobs) in order to retain long-term tenures on Crown forest land. Vicky Husband, a B.C. forest critic for some 30 years, recently told me that from l992 to 2010 raw log exports in the province went from 3% to 31% of the annual allowable cut. As she sees it, “The [B.C.] forests ministry has lost control of forest management [and] don’t have the regulations and the staff sufficient to manage Crown forests responsibly in the public interest.” That has been especially critical in the wake of the mountain pine beetle infestation in Western Canada. Husband said the infestation peaked in 2005, but the companies “kept cutting, both deadwood and green wood. “They’re taking everything down,” she told me. “And B.C. is basically throwing the wood away at 25 cents per cubic metre [in stumpage fees], which is a great financial loss to the public.”
Pressures on Quebec
Now it turns out that Quebec is being pressured to follow B.C.’s lead and lower the stumpage fees paid for sections of Quebec’s forests that have a budworm infestation. In an October 30 article, The Canadian Press quoted the head of Resolute Forest Products, CEO Richard
Garneau, saying, “If you adjust the stumpage like British Columbia, you are going to find a way to harvest the trees and really create the ideal conditions for the forest to recover quickly.” According to the article, the Quebec government has directed forest companies to harvest infected wood at stumpage fees of $11 to $12 per cubic metre. Resolute came back to the government with a proposal of $1 per cubic metre but this was reportedly rejected as too low. Incorporated in Delaware, the company (formerly
AbitibiBowater) operates 22 mills in Quebec and had income of $4.5 billion in 2012.
Quebec forests are also at risk from the province’s membership in an international carbon-offset plan: the cap-and-trade system with California. In April last year, a coalition of environmental groups revealed that the rules of the carbon-offset registry primarily benefit the forest industry “by incentivizing the destruction of old-growth forests in the state [of California] and in North America.”
Under the program, which began in 2012, timber companies can earn carbon credits by cutting old-growth timber and replanting the sites with monoculture seedlings. That plan is based on the now disproved theory that young trees absorb more carbon and grow faster than old trees—a belief that the industry fosters in order to cut down ancient forests and replace them with second-growth plantation forests. According to the journal Nature, old trees are far better than young trees at absorbing carbon, and they also grow faster than young trees. One of the study’s co-authors, Adrian Das, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, told The Guardian U.K. last
January, “large old trees play a disproportionately important role in aforest’s carbon dynamics. It is as if the star players on your favourite sports team were a bunch of 90-year-olds.”
Community Tenure as an Alternative
Unifor’s Dias has called for a national forest policy, stating recently, “We need comprehensive policies designed to ensure that forestry is an increasingly value-added industry,” and “we need to control the export of unprocessed raw logs.” The Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada goes further, calling for a ban on raw log exports.
But there are also non-industry solutions. Some critics are calling for the revocation of company tenures on public forest land and the creation of community-based tenures.
As Husband explained, B.C. forestry firm Timber West “continues to hold a tree farm license despite the fact that it has shut down all its processing facilities.” In Ontario, Resolute has shut down the Fort Frances mill but continues to hold a timber licence. That means smaller, independently-owned sawmills in the region cannot gain access to timber.
Anthony Britneff, a retired senior policy analyst with the B.C. Forest Service, suggests that Canada should imitate Scandinavia’s “local forest trusts”—elected and community-run local boards, overseen by provincial authorities, that manage forests of 100,000 or more hectares. It could be a viable way to foster both a value-added industry and a healthy forest ecology.
Treeless Paper Stacking Up Prairie Paper Ventures Inc., launched two years ago, is steadily winning support for its 80% tree-free (and chlorine-free) paper made from wheat straw waste that would otherwise be burned or dumped in landfills. The Winnipeg-based company’s “Step Forward” paper is currently available from several sources in Canada, including Staples and Unisource. With almost five billion trees cut worldwide to make paper each year, Prairie Paper co-founder and president Jeff Golfman has spent the better part of two decades in research and development for his product, along the way attracting the interest of Hollywood actor Woody Harrelson, now a partner in the company. In a recent interview, Golfman confirmed to me that although his company name evokes the Canadian Prairies, the product itself is manufactured in India. “There is no infrastructure in North America to make straw paper,” he said, “so we went overseas as an interim ‘step forward’.” Prairie Paper works with local farmers in India, “and we harvest our [wheat waste] straw within a 50-75 kilometres radius” of the manufacturing plant. “Manufacturing locally in North America is our goal,” he said. But the “timeline is very dependent on how quickly we can get revenues high enough to justify the capital cost investment required.”
Prairie Paper Ventures Inc., launched two years ago, is steadily winning support for its 80% tree-free (and chlorine-free) paper made from wheat straw waste that would otherwise be burned or dumped in landfills. The Winnipeg-based company’s “Step Forward” paper is currently available from several sources in Canada, including Staples and Unisource. With almost five billion trees cut worldwide to make paper each year, Prairie Paper co-founder and president Jeff Golfman has spent the better part of two decades in research and development for his product, along the way attracting the interest of Hollywood actor Woody Harrelson, now a partner in the company. In a recent interview, Golfman confirmed to me that although his company name evokes the Canadian Prairies, the product itself is manufactured in India. “There is no infrastructure in North America to make straw paper,” he said, “so we went overseas as an interim ‘step forward’.” Prairie Paper works with local farmers in India, “and we harvest our [wheat waste] straw within a 50-75 kilometres radius” of the manufacturing plant. “Manufacturing locally in North America is our goal,” he said. But the “timeline is very dependent on how quickly we can get revenues high enough to justify the capital cost investment required.”
Joyce Nelson is an award-winning freelance writer/researcher working on her sixth book.