Forestry playing field needs to be leveled, says logging company owner

  • Jun. 13, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Small logging businesses pay ten times what the major licensees pay in stumpage fees and at least one local business owner says if the playing field isn’t leveled soon, he may be forced to shut down. Randy O’Brien of O’Brien and Furst Logging Ltd. based in Port Clements sent a letter to the premier on May 14 and copied it to every member of the legislature. In it he decries the impact government stumpage policies have had on his company and other small businesses. “We have been paying ten times the stumpage that the major companies are paying,” he told the Observer. NDP MLA Corky Evans raised his concerns in the legislature on May 26, 2008, quoting Mr. O’Brien saying to the Premir, “You depict your government as being one that encourages secondary manufacturing. How is this when you are allowing major corporations to squeeze small business owners out?” In the letter Mr. O’Brien states that his company has logged 40,000 m3 per year over the last five years and paid $1.7 million in stumpage annually. “In comparison, Western Forest Products TFL 39, Block 6 logged 450,000 m3 per year and paid $1.7 million in stumpage annually.” Not only does he pay $45 to $50 per m3 for stumpage compared with WFP’s $3 to $5 per m3, but now he says these major licensees are being allowed to bid against small businesses to access wood through the BC Timber Sales program. Major industry says they have to build roads which is why their stumpage rates go down, but Mr. O’Brien says the numbers don’t add up. He says it only costs 18 per m3 to build roads. Mr. O’Brien says government needs to level the playing field and give smaller players the same breaks they give to the major licensees. Either that or they should stop subsidizing the big guys altogether and let them “go the way of the dinosaurs.” “They’ve been doing the same thing for 60 years and it hasn’t worked,” he says of the major corporations operating on the coast. The companies have not improved their milling facilities for 50 years and they are now falling behind. “We can’t give them enough. We’ve been giving them the best forests in the world and they’ve creamed the best and now want help to get at the last of it,” he said. Mr. O’Brien things have gotten worse since the BC Timber Sales program started – in part due to public pressure over unfair stumpage rates. “BCTS was supposed to set the rate for wood sold in the province. It’s a joke. It’s gotten worse,” he said. He says now is the time for BCTS to adjust their strategy based on feedback from small business operators. He’s also concerned about rotation periods. Most TFLs and some licenses were issued when the rotation time was promoted to be 80 years. Old farm sites were given up and private land included in TFLs. He says the Allowable annual cut was designed on the 80 year rotation model, which is more realistically 100 to 150 years. He says the majors cut more based on the AAC including the private land as well. “Then they were allowed to sell it off,” he said. So the overcutting over the last 50 years is really apparent now. “Its embarrassing for our government,” he said. Mr. O’Brien has operated his family business on the islands since 1973. He employs 40 people with families in Port Clements and has paid millions in stumpage fees over the years. “For 34 years we’ve been trying to do something and we get run over by the majors. I’m getting tired of the fight,” he said. Teal Jones president Tom Jones also wrote a letter saying his company is suffering because they can’t get wood. Mr. Jones, who has timber licenses on the islands, says his small log mills can’t fill orders due to shortage of logs. Mr. Jones concerns came to the attention of NDP Leader Carole James. She said it’s the Forests minister who decides on access to public forests. “The industry has lost 13,000 jobs since the beginning of 2007 because of this government’s forest policies,” she said.

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