A former stakeholder for Aspen Planers sees the delayed stumpage fees as a band-aid solution.

The province announced on April 30 that they would be deferring, with interest, stumpage fees for three months “to help people, communities and forest companies navigate through the Covid-19 crisis.”

Stumpage is the fee paid to the province to harvest, buy or sell trees from Crown Land, and it has been steadily increasing in recent years. In addition, following the clean-up of the mountain pine beetle infestation, the annual allowable cut in some Timber Supply Areas (TSA) – including the Merritt TSA – was decreased.

Combine these issues with ongoing fluctuations in market value, the Softwood Lumber Trade Dispute with the United States and other international trade regulations on exporting raw logs or lumber, and the BC forest industry has faced several years of sharp economic downturn.

Jerry Canuel, a Registered Professional Forester and member of the Association of BC Forest Professionals (ABCFP), as well as former Chief Forester for the AP Group of Companies, which owns and operates the Aspen Planers mill locally, spoke to the Herald about the stumpage fee deferrals, and how it may prove to be a short-term solution for a long-term problem.

“The government initiative is good for companies wanting to maintain operations now and possibly avoid shutdown due to declined markets and very high costs, however deferring these huge stumpage fees for three months simply delays and incurs prohibitive costs in the future when markets rebound,” Canuel explained.

“The idea sounds good on paper, but when one considers stumpage rates of $35.00-45.00/m3 and harvesting of 45,000 m3 per month (one shift basis) or 65,000 m3 per month (two shift).the delayed costs become quite significant and become a lot to bear down the road.”

Many in the BC forest industry have called on the provincial government to alter stumpage rates and the means by which they are calculated.

In September 2019, a truck convoy was organized by local independent contract truck driver, Howard McKimmon owner of Howard McKimmon Trucking. Hundreds of logging trucks descended on the Vancouver Convention Centre, where the Union of British Columbia Municipalities was holding their annual convention. McKimmon and others affected by the forest sector downturn hoped to address Premier John Horgan and share their concerns and ideas for revitalizing what has traditionally been an integral part of BC’s economy. Premier Horgan declined to speak or meet with rally organizers or participants.

In February 2020, echoing the same concerns, the BC Forestry Alliance held a peaceful rally in Victoria on the grounds of the Parliament Buildings.

“The problem still is the current rate structure for stumpage,” said Canuel.

“Until this is objectively addressed to reflect current markets, opportunities for Canadian independent companies to survive and grow their business is not realistic or possible. In April, rates in many Cutting permits actually increased by a further $2.00.”

There is a fear in the forestry community that with BC being priced out of the market, and no longer being a competitive supplier, that multi-national corporations will continue to buy up what were previously the independent, family run companies that have been the backbone of BC’s economy and communities for more than a century.