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article imageLayoffs and mill closings continue to plague BC forest industry

By Karen Graham     Dec 1, 2019 in Business
Vancouver - As B.C. politicians continue to argue in the legislature about the ongoing job losses in the forest industry, thousands of laid-off workers and the communities they live in are left facing an uncertain future.
At 95 million hectares (235 million acres), British Columbia is about twice the size of California. Around 64 percent of the province is forested - amounting to 60.3 million hectares (149 million acres). However, less than 1.0 percent of BC's forest land is harvested annually.
In the 2018 BC Forest Sector Overview - the forest sector was responsible for 32 percent ($14.9 billion) of B.C.’s total exports[1]. The sector is the primary employer in many parts of the province and directly supports over 7,000 businesses and employs more than 50,000 people.
Close to 4,000 forestry industry workers have been laid off in British Columbia already, while advocates continue calling for urgent government action to stem the bleeding. There have been shutdowns or curtailments at over 200 mills in the province to date.
B.C.'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. Besides high log prices, there has been an increase in the number of wildfires, low harvest levels because of mountain pine beetles, and an increase in protected areas for caribou.
Added to these issues, Premier John Horgan's government is also breeding uncertainty in the industry. The province's caribou habitat protection plan and its promise to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples have left most forestry industry people in the dark.
Canadian softwood lumber. — Photo: Fresh chunks of wood collected where they were growing  after 3...
Canadian softwood lumber. — Photo: Fresh chunks of wood collected where they were growing, after 3-4 days of being cut along the new forest road north of Chehalis Lake, BC, Canada.
B.C. Liberal forestry critic John Rustad says the closed mills and layoffs are causing widespread economic pain. "It's unfathomable to think of the carnage that's already happened, let alone what will happen this winter," he said in a recent interview with CTV News, "It's going to be a very bleak winter."
Last week, Canfor Corp. announced its latest province-wide shutdown of sawmill operations from Christmas to after New Year’s Day. "Basically, I would say 80 percent or more of the coastal forest sector is down," Rustad said. "It's not good. It's really, really tough."
Believe it or not, according to many lawmakers, it is all going back to those darned stumpage fees. Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond called for action on one of the latest layoffs, including the layoffs at Western Canadian Timber Products in the Fraser Valley. The problem cited by this and other employers is stumpage rates are too high, she said.
Bond's big question in all this is simple - "When will the premier and his government start paying attention and do something?" However, Forests Minister Doug Donaldson notes that stumpage rates in the B.C. Interior dropped by 12 percent in October and 24 percent on the coast.
Donaldson also points out that should the BC government intervene in the stumpage system, it would create a trade challenge between BC companies and the United States. Exports to the U.S. already face tariffs of about 20 percent. He added that the province has taken steps to drive more logs to domestic production and for use in value-added products.
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