In anticipation of impending log shortages, we should look at ways to help the smaller business impacted by the layoffs. (Black Press files)

We need to promote small business forest industries

Not putting all your eggs in one basket has always been a good approach and the major Canadian forest companies have been following this advice for the past decade by making major investments outside of the country.

The challenge seems to be how to use the multiple egg basket idea for the small business which can’t necessarily move their extra eggs (if they have any) far from their home base.

In an article by Jim Stirling in the recent issue of the Logging and Sawmilling Journal, the author gave a quick snap shot of what has happened in the forest industry in the last few years.

He describes ongoing concerns about the implication of warming trends impact on endemic pests and wildfires which removed 22 percent of Quesnel Timber Supply Area (TSA) AAC and 18 per cent in the Williams lake area in 2017. He made no mention of the impact of the wildfires on the 100 Mile TSA.

The industries response to the immediate and longterm timber shortage was curtailments or shutdowns of wood processing. West Fraser removed 13 percent from its normal production levels while Canfor had a 10 percent reduction in the fourth quarter of 2018. Both Tolko and Conifex Timber have laid off workers.

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In anticipation of impending log shortages, the large forest companies have been busy acquiring investment opportunities outside of B.C. and Canada. Most have been in the USA, in particular in the southern pine belt. Canfor has 16 operations in the area. Canfor is also investing outside of North America with recent a 70 per cent (508 Million dollar) investment in VIDA group, Sweden’s largest privately owned sawmilling company. West Fraser has been investing in the USA for some time with mills in 9 southern states with about 43 per cent of their production coming from those mills.

Conifex Timer and Tolko are more recent investors with plants in Arkansas and Mississippi. Mr Stirling also points out corporate changes in equipment manufactures like Caterpillar announcing its selling of the purpose built forest business to Weiler inc. While the mills can maintain some competitiveness with foreign investments the Interior logging contractors, truckers and many support industries have been negatively impacted by the layoffs and curtailments in production and don’t have the same options as the larger mills. Jim Stirling concludes his column by challenging the government, forest industry and First Nations to craft creative solutions soon, so access to the wood fibre is available to produce a suite of products on a sustainable basis.

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I would like to see government support for an independent group of resource users along with someone with the background and experience to work toward recommendations similar to the Gary Filmon report done for tackling the wildfire issues.

Here are some of the issues that I think need some brainstorming which will help the smaller business impacted by the layoffs.

1. How do we incorporate some of the First Nations resource management proposals like the Tribal Parks.

2. How to encourage more value-added forest industries throughout B.C. to replace the displaced forestry workers and use forest fibre that has been traditionally burned.

3. How to encourage more area-based tenures like Community Forest Tenures (CFT) in communities in where there are none or small ones. The Quesnel, (TSA) has only one small community forest.

5. How do we attract and train workers to replace our retiring truck drivers and equipment operators.

In a recent interview Forest Minister Donaldson indicated the government will conduct a review in the Interior similar to the “Coast Revitalization Initiative.”

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

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