TLA breaks down forest industry job loss

David Elstone
August 02, 2017
By David Elstone
Aug. 2, 2017 - The forest industry, like all Canadian natural resource sectors, has long had the distinction of providing good, family supporting jobs in rural communities around the province. According to Statistics Canada, in 2000 B.C.’s forest industry employed close to 100,000 people directly, together with the plethora of indirect jobs needed to support the industry.

However, since that time significant job loss and mill closures have occurred within the industry. The environmental community has been quick to jump on these job-loss stats and use them as part of their anti-log export campaign. Many headlines read something like: Log exports responsible for mill closures and provincial industry job loss.

However, a more in-depth look at the data paints a much different picture.

First, let’s get the numbers correct. The table shows Statistics Canada’s forest industry employment figures by sector for 2000 and 2015. As you can see, in 2015, the forest industry employed some 45,000 fewer people than it did in 2000.

coastal-view-chart-2.png
*Survey of Employment, Payrolls and Hours, Statistics Canada.

While log exports have risen in B.C. since 2000 and provide an easy target for the rhetoric, a number of other significant changes have also occurred within the industry.

Yes, log exports rose from three per cent of the provincial harvest to nine per cent. However, at the same time the provincial harvest fell by 16 per cent as a result of a reduced working forest land base on the coast following ongoing environmental campaigns and despite an increased harvest in the B.C. Interior to combat mountain pine beetle.

Despite mill closures, capacity increases at remaining mills have kept provincial lumber production virtually the same over the period (down just six per cent). At the same time, the global shift to electronic media forced a significant reduction of 59 per cent in paper production and 17 per cent in pulp production with several mills closing as a result of failing markets.

And, in order to remain competitive in a global marketplace for the wood products B.C. produces, the industry significantly increased its productivity over the same time frame. Starting in 2001, the lumber industry accelerated its restructuring, which resulted in substantial productivity gains with labour productivity in sawmills and wood preservation industry increasing two times faster than in the entire manufacturing sector.

This same trend was also seen in the logging sector, but here it was more related to the ongoing shift toward harvesting second growth and the increased use of mechanical harvesting. As a bonus, the safety performance of the industry also improved as a result.

Putting these industry changes together with the job loss stats and the conclusion drawn is much different than typically reported.

  • 10 per cent of job loss was as a result of a reduced harvest (on the coast)
  • 38 per cent of job loss was a result of increased productivity in wood manufacture
  • 27 per cent of job loss was a result of increased productivity in logging
In aggregate, this points to the fact that 75 per cent of job loss was as a result of productivity improvement or reduction in harvest. Reduced manufacturing of pulp, paper, lumber and value added accounts for another 22 per cent of job loss and four per cent of job loss can be attributed to the increase in exports.

Given the need to remain globally competitive, we likely won’t go back to the employment heydays. However, there are opportunities to increase the number of forest industry jobs beyond the four per cent lost to log exports.

In 2016, the coastal industry alone undercut the allowable harvest by some 3.9 million cubic metres – this is allowable harvest that went unused. Given the same job stats per cubic metre of harvest, achievement of the full coastal cut would yield an additional 22 per cent of the 2017 workforce.

Banning log exports would not increase jobs and, in fact, may further reduce the total coastal harvest due to the economics of the coastal profile. Opportunity, however, lies in harvesting the full allowable annual cut, something we can all work towards.


David Elstone is the executive director of the Truck Loggers Association.

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