Forests Minister Steve Thomson told members gathered for the Truck Loggers Convention on Thursday that government was increasing the coastal timber available by an extra 500,000 cubic metres and would hike fees up to 20 per cent on some logs bound for overseas markets.
"Our focus and our goal is to increase jobs and increase economic activity and opportunities for coastal communities and First Nations, and we believe the steps we've taken today will assist in that," Thomson told reporters immediately following his convention speech.
"We believe ... that will result in more wood moving to the domestic market," he said.
Thomson said the added fees for raw logs will be based on the difference between the domestic and export prices of timber, which represents about a 20-per-cent jump for those wanting to export a raw log.
The minister said the government is attempting to reach a balance between both the domestic and export markets. But he said the ministry remains steadfast that the coastal forest industry requires some raw log exports to remain viable.
"We recognize the ability to export logs is still a key part of the economy of the coastal forest industry," said Thomson. "It's what has created jobs, kept loggers working, kept people involved in the industry. We believe this is a measured adjustment."
He said the government is also chopping the fee for low- and mid-grade logs on the mid-coast in order to increase logging in areas where less valuable timber is growing.
Coast Forest Association President Rick Jeffery said the government changes could result in the creation of up to 4,000 jobs in the coastal industry. He said the minister has attempted to achieve a balance between improving the domestic market without halting necessary log exports.
"People should know that for every log that gets exported, between two and three logs end up in front of a domestic mill," he said. "So, what he has to balance is making sure the Crown is putting enough constraint on the flow of logs offshore. We think he's done a good job of that."
But Opposition New Democrat critic Norm Macdonald believes the changes will increase raw log exports and kill jobs at home.
"This is not an attempt to get woods to domestic mills," he said. "This is about exports."
Macdonald said the NDP believes that the increased export fees aren't enough to reduce raw log exports.
He said more than 5.5 million cubic metres of raw logs were exported from B.C. in 2011, and even though the 2012 numbers have yet to be released, preliminary numbers show increased exports.
The truck loggers expressed some concerns with the government's decision to increase the export fees for raw log exports.
TLA President Bill Markvoort issued a statement calling on the government to maximize harvesting in coastal forests. The statement said the 20 per cent export fee has the potential to reduce harvesting activity.