No quick fix for sawmill clo­sures linked to drop in tim­ber sup­ply

The Prince George Citizen - - Local - Gordon HOEKSTRA

There are no im­me­di­ate so­lu­tions to pre­vent more sawmills clo­sures in the B.C. In­te­rior as the amount of tim­ber available for log­ging has been sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced by the moun­tain pine bee­tle epi­demic.

Both the B.C. gov­ern­ment and in­dus­try agreed on that point as a sixth wood-manufactur­ing fa­cil­ity an­nounced a mill or shift clo­sure in the past seven months.

Nor­bord Inc., which op­er­ates an ori­ented strand board mill in 100 Mile House, cited the rea­sons for its clo­sure as the bee­tle epi­demic and, more re­cently, the in­creased num­ber of wildfires that have led to wood­sup­ply short­ages and high prices. The tim­ber-sup­ply prob­lem has been ex­ac­er­bated by lum­ber prices that are fall­ing in B.C.’s main mar­ket, the United States.

“I think we are deal­ing with the re­al­ity of the tim­ber sup­ply com­ing home to roost. It’s not some­thing that wasn’t known,” B.C. Forests Min­is­ter Doug Don­ald­son said Wed­nes­day.

The B.C. gov­ern­ment wants to fo­cus on help­ing com­mu­ni­ties and work­ers af­ter the clo­sures and to find ways over the longer term to get more value out of the tim­ber sup­ply.

The mayor of 100 Mile House, Mitch Camp­sall, and others are lob­by­ing to have Crown tim­ber har­vest­ing fees – called stumpage – re­duced to make B.C. mills more com­pet­i­tive.

But giv­ing for­est com­pa­nies an ar­ti­fi­cial break on stumpage to pre­vent sawmill clo­sures is a non-starter as prices are set based on mar­ket forces, said Don­ald­son. And fid­dling with stumpage would also be a “dan­ger­ous game” in the mid­dle of the lat­est soft­wood lum­ber dis­pute with the United States, he said.

B.C. lum­ber pro­duc­ers cur­rently must pay a 20 per cent tar­iff on ship­ments across the border.

Don­ald­son said the fo­cus needs to be on max­i­miz­ing the value of tim­ber, not the volume, and find­ing a way to give smaller wood-manufactur­ing fa­cil­i­ties ac­cess to wood fi­bre.

The gov­ern­ment can also help in the in­terim by in­vest­ing in In­te­rior com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing projects such as a re­build of a hospi­tal in Williams Lake, said Don­ald­son.

Show­cas­ing wood in pub­lic build­ings, as will be done in the new St. Paul’s hospi­tal project in Vancouver, can also help, he said.

More than 700 jobs will be lost with the al­ready-an­nounced per­ma­nent clo­sures of a Can­for sawmill in Vavenby, a Tolko sawmill in Ques­nel, a reduction of one shift at a Tolko sawmill in Kelowna and the reduction of shifts at West Fraser sawmills in Fraser Lake and Ques­nel.

The com­pa­nies have all cited the loss of tim­ber sup­ply from the bee­tle epi­demic in the clo­sures.

The B.C. Coun­cil of For­est In­dus­tries pres­i­dent, Su­san Yurkovich, said Wed­nes­day the is­sue is clear: the tim­ber sup­ply is de­clin­ing and there is not enough to feed mills.

Yurkovich said what is needed is for in­dus­try, gov­ern­ment, First Na­tions, com­mu­ni­ties and work­ers to work col­lec­tively through the tran­si­tion pe­riod.

“But go­ing for­ward, when re­bal­anc­ing milling ca­pac­ity with a sus­tain­able tim­ber sup­ply – we have to en­sure con­di­tions that al­low us to be com­pet­i­tive glob­ally,” she said.

For­est in­dus­try an­a­lysts have fore­cast that an­other 12 sawmills will be closed in the next decade to cope with the shrink­ing tim­ber sup­ply, with a loss of 2,000 to 2,500 mill jobs.

Ac­cord­ing to B.C. gov­ern­ment data, the B.C. In­te­rior tim­ber sup­ply is fore­cast to drop as much as 40 per cent in the B.C. In­te­rior to 40 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres from its peak dur­ing the bee­tle epi­demic when har­vest­ing was in­creased to sal­vage dead trees be­fore they were no longer eco­nom­i­cally vi­able.

Ac­cord­ing to B.C. gov­ern­ment data, the In­te­rior tim­ber sup­ply is fore­cast to stay at 40 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres from 2025 to 2070, when it will be­gin to in­crease.

At its peak in 2005, the bee­tle killed 140 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres of pine tim­ber.

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