Everything has a price — how much you need to pay for it. There are also a series of benefits, especially to those who provide that product, and for provincially owned resources, the rents, royalties and payments made to the public coffer.
In that realm are also the employment benefits and the taxes paid by workers and corporate bodies. You will have to shell out somewhere between $4 to $5 for an eight-foot two-by-four. That’s the usual retail price sticker. But what’s the cost?
Economists, politicians and lobbyists are constantly adding up all the economic benefits of the business side of the equation. If answers on the plus side seem inflated that’s because rarely are the full costs of an endeavour ever calculated.
Part of the problem, which economists and others have trouble grappling with, is that some of the costs are hard to calculate in strict, hard currency terms. To some, the only thing relevant is the economic benefit. Everything else is extraneous.
There are some significant externalities in that two-by-four, which are rarely accounted for in logging plans. The way logging is practised is based on reducing inputs and enhancing profit. A clear-cut, with the tangle of skid trails and roads, is hardly a gentle approach to other forest values. You will recognize this if you go out into the woods today.
Large logging footprints change the hydrologic response of a watershed, speeding run-off and exacerbating flooding. Intact forests store water; logged ones don’t. More sediment is added to receiving streams, reducing water quality for downstream users. Fish and wildlife populations, some of which are categorized as threatened or endangered, are put at substantial risk. Some will wink out of existence if the present practices continue.
It’s doubtful we will attract much in the way of tourists to gaze on fields of stumps, sediment and sawdust. Adding to the logging footprint will compound our climate-change woes, especially reducing the moderating effect of intact forests on floods and droughts. Logging does nothing to minimize wildfires, despite the rhetoric of the forest industry.
Despite this, successive forestry ministers have ratcheted up the extent of logging — industrial-strength clear-cut logging — especially in the Eastern Slopes, our essential watersheds. It would seem all other forest values are extraneous to them.
Unfortunately, many Albertans who hold the Eastern Slopes dear have had little success in engaging in a meaningful, timely and transparent discussion with the forest service or the forest sector. It is as if logging is baked into the decision, it is the answer, and any questions are irrelevant.
The stock response from the forest sector goes along the lines of “We follow all relevant rules and regulations.” Even if that were true, it would be good to understand they have lobbied successfully to substantially reduce the effect of the rules on their economic bottom lines.
Regulations might be effective if they weren’t administered by a captured agency, the forest service. The amount of regulatory oversight is minimal. We shouldn’t be fooled by the dubious greenwashing certification programs the industry hides behind.
Timber harvest, especially the scale of logging in the Eastern Slopes, should demand some analysis, some full-cost accounting of this land use. A transparent approach of assessing not just the benefits but also all the costs would put all of us in a better position to understand if the present system is in the public interest.
It would be best to do this before logging plans are set in stone and the feller bunchers are unloaded. This especially so for sensitive watersheds in the headwaters of the Oldman and Highwood rivers.
Full-cost accounting would tell us what we’re sacrificing for that two-by-four. If the sticker price included the real costs, it might persuade us to ask for genuine, sustainable logging practices, instead of today’s cut-and-run one.
Lorne Fitch, P.Biol.