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

Crews responding to vehicle fire on Highway 97 south of Williams Lake

A witness said the 150 Mile House volunteer fire department is attending, traffic lanes still open

LETTER: Williams Lake Dry Grad Committee officially cancels festivities for 2020

Socially distanced photos to adorn some local businesses

IG Wealth Management Williams Lake gifts iPads to Cariboo Place for residents’ use

With long-term care homes on lockdown during COVID-19, residents visit family virtually

BREAKING: Jayson Gilbert charged in murder of Richard “Savage” Duncan

Gilbert also faces first degree murder in the Rudy Johnson Bridge death of Branton Regner

RCMP seize stolen vehicles, equipment and firearms in Quesnel

Quesnel resident facing multiple charges

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

Thanks for helping the Williams Lake Tribune continue its mission to provide trusted local news

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto vying to be NHL hubs, but there’s a catch

The NHL unveiled a return-to-play plan that would feature 24 teams

B.C. sees 9 new COVID-19 cases, one death as officials watch for new cases amid Phase Two

Number of confirmed active cases is at 244, with 37 people in hospital

Nanaimo senior clocked going 50 km/hr over limit says her SUV shouldn’t be impounded

RCMP say they can’t exercise discretion when it comes to excessive speeding tickets

Illicit-drug deaths up in B.C. and remain highest in Canada: chief coroner

More than 4,700 people have died of overdoses since B.C. declared a public health emergency in early 2016

CMHC sees declines in home prices, sales, starts that will linger to end of 2022

CMHC said average housing prices could fall anywhere from nine to 18 per cent in its forecast

B.C. Paralympian named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Three-time world and Paralympic gold medalist Sonja Gaudet is part of 11-member class

Most Read