Clearcut Policy and Utilization Standards in British Colombia

Adam White November 25, 1991 Executive Summary A typical logging site in British Columbia’s old-growth forest contains not only highly valued mature timber but also a large amount of smaller, younger and inferior timber of very little value. To prevent the industry from wasting this small and inferior timber, the BC Forest Service developed close utilization standards – regulations requiring timber above a minimum size to be removed from a harvested site. Since close utilization standards form the basis for the calculation of the merchantable timber inventory, tighter standards increase that volume and thereby increase allowable annual cuts. Data from a representative logging site on the BC coast indicate that 73% of the logs removed under the close utilization policy were uneconomic, suggesting that, if the policy were not in effect, the majority of trees might have been left standing. The forced removal of uneconomic timber from this site reduced the profitability of logging from a potential net profit of $3346 per hectare to a net profit of $604 per hectare; a difference of $2742 per hectare, indicating that arbitrary utilization standards may be reducing the potential rents from BC’s forests by millions of dollars. Close utilization standards encourage the conversion of complex old-growth forest to simplified and weakened managed forest. Favouring a narrow range of commercial tree species over the rich diversity of old-growth forest, the government’s industrial forest management policy reduces the forest’s resilience to environmental stress and its long-term productivity. Economically and ecologically costly, utilization standards decrease the profitability of logging and encourage undesirable forestry practices. Utilization standards contribute to harvesting at unsustainable levels. The rapid expansion of processing capacity encouraged by tighter standards endangers the long-term economic viability of the Canadian forest industry. Regulated utilization standards constitute a major institutional obstacle to the conservation of our forest resource. The standards should be rescinded. Allowable annual cuts should be economically and ecologically determined by local communities with a stake in the economic stability and ecological integrity of their environments. Regulated annual cuts based on arbitrary definitions of merchantable timber inventories should be abandoned.

Introduction
Over the years, British Columbia’s public forest managers have promoted increasing timber yields from public forests in the belief that more timber volume means more processing, more jobs and therefore greater benefit to society. Timber yields have increased manyfold over the years, as new techniques and economies have opened up virtually all of British Columbia’s crown forests to industrial forest management. But a large proportion of the present allowable annual cut (AAC) makes no economic or technical sense. As much as one-fifth of BCs AAC occurs by government fiat. A central tenet of this policy is utilization standards.
The BC Ministry of Forests sets minimum utilization standards for all timber harvesting on public land in the province. Called “close utilization” standards, any log above a stump 30 cm high, longer than 3 m and larger than 15 cm in diameter inside bark at its top in old growth, and 10 cm in second growth, must be removed from a clearcut area. (Close utilization standards are slightly different in the interior of the province.) Utilization standards for harvested timber increase timber yield per hectare by enforcing the removal of smaller, inferior timber.
But these arbitrary utilization standards are expensive. Forest policy in British Columbia deliberately enforces the harvesting of timber for which the cost of harvesting exceeds the benefit.
As the industry cuts the prime timber and relies more upon timber of lower quality, this policy increasingly jeopardizes the financial health of the forest industry and the stability of communities that rely upon it. Additionally, utilization standards have reinforced the industry’s reliance on clearcut harvesting practices, degrading public forests and encouraging cutting at rates far beyond sustainable levels.
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