The Truck Loggers Association (TLA) is welcoming a provincial government review aimed at addressing inequities in the industry and planning to do more to engage the communities where its members work.
David Elstone of Roberts Creek is the executive director of the TLA, which wrapped up its annual convention in Vancouver Jan. 20. Elstone calls the contractor sustainability review announced at the convention by Premier Christy Clark “the most significant announcement for forest contractors in almost 20 years.”
As the TLA sees it, the balance between the contractors who do the logging and the big tenure holders they harvest for has tipped over the years to the point where the contractors are finding it harder to stay in the black.
The review will start with a baseline economic assessment. Then, sometime after March 31, all the players will work together with an independent third party to draft a strategy. “Ensuring [contractors] are on a secure business footing and earning a fair rate of return means we’ll continue to have long-term, well-paid jobs in B.C.’s rural communities,” Elstone said.
As a Sunshine Coaster, Elstone has also seen first-hand the controversy and division some logging operations cause, and he thinks the key to addressing those situations is better communication and making forestry part of the day-to-day discussion happening in the community and around local council tables.
“We’re part of the fabric [of the community], but almost every time we hear about forestry is when there’s some sort of friction out there, and that’s never a good time to be talking about forestry,” he said. “We should be talking about forestry all the time and recognizing it as part of our ability to have people living and working and having year-round solid jobs in our coastal and rural communities.”
One of the events at the convention was specifically aimed at getting that ball rolling. The Not in My Backyard panel brought together Scott Benton of Wilderness Tourism BC, Bob Matters from the United Steel Workers, Christine Gelowitz of the Association of BC Forest Professionals and Brian Frenkel, a councillor from Vanderhoof and director with the Union of BC Municipalities.
Elstone said some of the key messages that came out of that discussion were that it’s not an either/or question when it comes to balancing harvesting and conservation or logging and tourism potential. The panel also noted that the 2014 municipal elections saw a lot of turnover across the province and “new mayors and councillors are less familiar with forestry and so the need for communication and education is ever greater.”
The TLA is also encouraging its members to be ambassadors for forestry in their communities. “We want people to be proud of what they do, and we want them to talk about the forest industry and all the good things we do out there,” said Elstone.
When it comes to the bigger picture, the TLA is keeping a wary eye on how the new Trump administration in the U.S. is approaching trade. There hasn’t been much progress in negotiating a new Canada-U.S. softwood lumber agreement, and Elstone said despite the new markets in Asia for both lumber and raw logs, any shrinking of the U.S. market could hurt logging contractors. He said the success of the sustainability review, and the trade negotiations, will have a big impact on local economies.
“There’s a huge sense of urgency to get this work done and to see some results,” Elstone said. “There are contractor businesses on the bubble – they’re just holding on – and if they can’t see some sort of change in their outlook they’ll leave [the industry] as many others already have. And that’s concerning for communities where these people are local employers.”