Softwood lumber is pictured at Tolko Industries in Heffley Creek, B.C., on April, 1, 2018. Mills in the heart of Canada’s timber industry have fallen quieter this winter as wildfires and infestations made worse by climate change have made vast tracts of once valuable forest into barren stands of dead trees. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

B.C. forest industry facing uncertain future as mills close across province

Finance Ministry budget numbers show forest revenues are down 11 per cent so far this year

It seems barely a day goes by without an announcement about layoffs, temporary closures or permanent mill shut downs in British Columbia’s struggling forest industry.

As a result, thousands of workers, their families and many communities have been left facing uncertain futures.

The layoffs and shutdowns are causing widespread economic and social pain, says B.C. Liberal forestry critic John Rustad.

“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. “It’s going to be a very bleak winter.”

Rustad said on a visit to Campbell River a car dealer told him he repossessed 10 vehicles from forestry workers who were out of work. One laid-off worker asked him if he could keep his vehicle until Christmas and sold the dealer a load of firewood to make a payment, Rustad said.

On Vancouver Island, where Mosaic Forest Management announced an early winter shutdown of timber harvesting operations, 2,000 people are out of work indefinitely.

Among those affected are also about 175 workers at a mill owned by Tolko Industries in Kelowna where the plant will close permanently on Jan. 8, while Canfor’s decision to permanently close its mill in Vavenby, north of Kamloops, resulted in the loss of 172 jobs in the community of about 700 people.

“Basically, I would say 80 per cent or more of the coastal forest sector is down,” Rustad said. ”It’s not good. It’s really, really tough.”

Finance Ministry budget numbers show forest revenues are down 11 per cent so far this year and projected harvest volumes of 46 million cubic metres are the lowest in years.

The NDP government faced daily calls for action from the Liberals during the fall session of the legislature, which concluded Thursday.

“When will the premier and his government start paying attention and do something?” asked Liberal co-finance critic Shirley Bond, whose Prince George riding is facing about 50 impending layoffs at a mill.

READ MORE: B.C. forest industry aid on the way, Doug Donaldson says

Liberal rural development critic Donna Barnett wants the government to grant payment relief to Sigurdson Forest Products, which owes the province $4.6 million in stumpage fees. She said the company in Williams Lake is committed to paying the fees but needs a temporary stay on the payments to save up to 200 jobs.

“SFP is a viable company and wants to continue operations,” said president Brian Sigurdson in a letter to Finance Minister Carole James, Premier John Horgan and Forests Minister Doug Donaldson.

“We want to continue to support all of our employees and our local businesses and community.”

Donaldson said the request for relief is before the Ministry of Finance, but he added stumpage rates in the B.C. Interior dropped by 12 per cent in October and 24 per cent on the coast.

He also said political intervention into the stumpage system could make matters worse for B.C. companies because it could result in a trade challenge from forest producers in the United States. B.C. lumber exports to the U.S. already face tariffs of about 20 per cent.

Low timber prices and the large-scale destruction of Crown harvest zones during the pine beetle epidemic and two successive record wildfire seasons have hurt the industry, Donaldson said.

“We understand the impact the global downturn is having on the economies of the Interior and we’re determined to address it,” he said in the legislature.

He said the province has taken steps to drive more logs to domestic production and for use in value-added products.

Industry spokeswoman Susan Yurkovich said it can rebound but companies need assurances from the government about long-term availability of a timber supply at a reasonable cost. The industry itself must move to greener products and become more competitive on the global market, she added.

READ MORE: Fewer trees, higher costs blamed for devastating downturn in B.C. forestry

“I’ve spent 25 years in the resource sector and I’ve spent a lot of time in many of the communities that are hurting,” said Yurkovich, president of the Council of Forest Industries.

“The most important thing we can do for those communities in transition is to look at where are the future opportunities for the sector.”

A report by the council in September said the industry has been a cornerstone of the B.C. economy for more than 100 years and the well-being of 140 communities is closely linked to the health of the sector.

It said forestry supports about 140,000 jobs and generates about $4 billion in revenues annually for the province.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

In-class instruction for Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows schools to resume June 1

Classes will be part-time, remote/at-home learning to continue

Maple Ridge Climate Hub urges city council to take action

Many neighbouring cities have declared climate emergencies

LETTER: Fearful guard dog training will bring undue noise and fear to Pitt Meadows

As a neighbour to another local dog-training facility, this resident pleads with council to vote ‘no’

LETTER: Friend claims dog training disruptive to ailing Pitt Meadows neighbour

Concern expressed with only 30 metres distance between a home and a proposed training facility

B.C. records no new COVID-19 deaths for the first time in weeks

Good news comes despite 11 new test-positive cases in B.C. in the past 24 hours

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

Thanks for helping The News to continue its mission to provide trusted local news

BC Corrections to expand list of eligible offenders for early release during pandemic

Non-violent offenders are being considered for early release through risk assessment process

Officials looking for answers after Abbotsford football star found dead in Sask. lake

Saskatchewan Health Authority looking into circumstances surrounding Samwel Uko’s hospital visit

Fraser Valley driver featured on ‘Highway Thru Hell’ TV show dies

Monkhouse died Sunday night of a heartattack, Jamie Davis towing confirmed

B.C. visitor centres get help with COVID-19 prevention measures

Destination B.C. gearing up for local, in-province tourism

Most Read