Stopping subsidized lumber exports

April 2, 2001

Dear Friend:

Our governments are paying forestry companies to tear down our Crown-owned forests and ship them to the U.S. and Asia. Here’s how our “forest management system” works, taking British Columbia’s rainforests as an example.

B.C.’s rainforests are primarily composed of hemlock and balsam stands. Forestry companies like Weyerhaeuser and Interfor sell logs from these species for about $60 a cubic metre, even though it costs them about $100 a cubic metre to get the trees to market. (The $100 includes the great cost of logging and transporting the logs, as well as the modest “stumpage” fees that the companies pay the government for the trees.) The forestry companies thus lose $40 per cubic metre on most of the stands they log-a terrible economic and ecological waste. But it gets worse.

To compensate the forestry companies for uneconomic logging, the government gives them access to commercially valuable species such as cedar and fir, which sell for $150 and $120 per cubic metre, respectively. The stumpage fees that it charges for those species don’t even begin to reflect their value. (In fact, Interfor’s average stumpage fee is just $7 per cubic metre.) On balance, the forestry companies make a profit. But it is a paltry one: The forestry industry, for all the environmental devastation it causes, is consistently one of the poorest performers in the Canadian economy.

Who benefits from all this? Not the economy. Not the environment. That’s just bafflegab from governments and industry. Our forests are run as a giant make-work project that benefits loggers in forest ridings and the local politicians who use our forests to secure votes at election time. The workers, because of their strong union, are among the best paid workers in the country. After they’re logged out their communities, they will leave for work elsewhere, and leave behind a legacy of destruction for citizens across the country, who rightfully own our Crown forests.

You’ll find more details of this tragic story in the attached articles (“Free trade for dummies” and “Logging for a loss“), written by my colleague, Larry Solomon. And in the papers almost daily, you’ll find hope for our forests, in the form of the dispute between Canada and the U.S. over “softwood lumber.”

Free trade rules forbid one country from illegally subsidizing goods sold in another country. The U.S. accuses Canada of subsidizing its lumber, both by charging below-market stumpage fees and by allowing unsustainable environmental practices.

Neither side has clean hands, but the dispute does give Canadians who care about our forests an opportunity to blow the whistle about Canada’s forestry policies at a time when the politicians are listening. Although Canadian negotiators deny it, our governments do subsidize our forestry companies. If they didn’t, most of our forests could never be cut down.

Environmentalists who dare tell the truth are being cowed into backing off by accusations that they are helping the Americans by pressing this issue at this time. But we will not be cowed. Stopping subsidized exports would help Canada’s environment and Canada’s economy – no objective Canadian can deny the senselessness of current forest policies. With your help, we will continue to speak out, we will stop the bafflegab, and we will hold our governments, and the forestry companies, to account.


Elizabeth Brubaker
Executive Director


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