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article imageBritish Columbia's forestry sector fighting for survival

By Karen Graham     Jul 8, 2019 in Business
Quesnel - British Columbia's forest industry started out 2019 with several temporary closures of sawmills for between one and six weeks. Six months later, about 20 temporary (and a few permanent) closures are having a direct effect on employees and communities.
Western Canada's forestry sector is mired by a variety of problems that have impacted on the economic growth and future reliability of the lumber industry to sustain itself. Issues include the increase in the number of wildfires, low harvest levels because of mountain pine beetles, and an increase in protected areas for caribou, to name just a few.
CBC Canada is reporting that as of today, two more sawmills have been added to the growing list of 20 or so temporary and indefinite production curtailments of such facilities across British Columbia, along with several permanent closures.
Canfor recently announced the company will reduce production at two more sawmills this summer in Prince George. The announcement followed on the heels of Canfor's June 3 announcement that the Vavenby mill will be closed permanently as part of a timber swap with Interfor’s Adams Lake operation.
The Vavenby mill closure will leave 172 workers without a job. Another 150 employees at the Tolko Industries mill in Quesnel will lose their jobs when that mill closes in August. Other permanent closures include the Norbord OSB mill in 100 Mile House, B.C., Louisiana-Pacific OSB mill in Fort St. John, B.C., and the West Fraser sawmill in Chasm, B.C.
Fresh logs dumped along the road after clear cutting north of Chehalis Lake  BC  Canada.
Fresh logs dumped along the road after clear cutting north of Chehalis Lake, BC, Canada.
Need for diverse economies
Wildfires and insect infestations made worse by a changing climate have helped in creating poor market conditions and lumber shortages. These changing conditions have had a huge impact on small and a few large communities that are dependent on the forestry industry for their economic livelihood.
Tolko employee Jennifer Johnson was shocked to learn the sawmill where she works in Quesnel will be closed for the summer. "It's definitely going to be a struggle because there's not a great deal of jobs that have around the same pay or benefits," she said.
The Johnson family's plan to buy a new house has been put on hold and she does not look forward to the last day of work. "There's probably going to be some tears shed I'm sure," she said.
Fresh logs after clear cutting north of Chehalis Lake  BC  Canada.
Fresh logs after clear cutting north of Chehalis Lake, BC, Canada.
Doug Donaldson, B.C.'s minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development, told CBC he wasn't surprised by all the closures and production curtailments.
"These curtailments and shutdowns were the result of natural and global forces, and they didn't happen overnight, and that's what's so frustrating," Donaldson told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk.
The thing that hurts the most is a question a lot of communities are probably asking themselves today: If forestry is the only industry in a town, how do we go about diversifying? Take the town of Quesnel — it has been considered a forestry town for years.
Tolko's upcoming mill closure in Quesnel is a big hit to the Cariboo city with a population of 23,000. But the locals knew the closure was coming. "That sense of surprise still settles in because you don't want to believe it's going to happen, but as a [city] council, we said it's going to happen," said Mayor Bob Simpson.
Simpson says the city is trying to diversify its economy by growing its agriculture and tourism sectors, but they still depend on forestry, claiming to have enough diversity to pull the town through this crisis.
More about British columbia, forestry sector, sawmills, pine beetles, Wildfires
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