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More sawmill closures may be coming according to study

Province-wide decrease in AAC as a result of environmental protections could impact Burns Lake
A recent study says that there’s potential for a 1 million cubic metre decrease in AAC on the coast, and a 3 million cubic metre decrease in the Interior (File photo/Lakes District News)

The province of B.C. could see a decrease in allowable annual cut (AAC), along with more sawmill closures in the near future. B.C Forestry industry consultant Jim Girvan from Ladysmith B.C. conducted a recent study with the hope of showing the public and the government what will happen if the government concedes to environmental demands.

Environmentalists are pushing hard for the government to stop logging in old-growth forests until updated strategies are in place to better manage the population of old trees. Protests against logging have occurred prominently on Vancouver Island, but also in Prince George and Nelson.

According to the Girvan’s study conducted this summer, it will cause serious implications to the timber industry. Girvan says that B.C. can expect to see up to four sawmills on the coast, and up to five in the interior permanently shutdown if environmentalist policy reforms are implemented. This is a continuing trend; from 2010-2019 16 mills in the interior were shut down, a number that was initially predicted by Girvan.

Girvan’s calculations say that there’s potential for a 1 million cubic metre decrease in AAC on the coast, and a 3 million cubic metre decrease in the Interior should the government take the recommendations from environmentalists which include banning logging on old-growth forests as well as caribou protection mandates.

This province-wide decrease in AAC would result in mill closures and job loss if realized. The issue could have an impact in the Burns Lake area as well, where the AAC was already cut by 41 per cent from 1.6 million cubic metres to 970,000 in 2019. In 2009, the AAC in the region was over 3 million cubic metres.

Lakes District News spoke to Nechako Lakes Member of Legislative Assembly John Rustad about this issue. “Even small shifts in removing area away from the timber harvesting land base will have large impacts. Removing area for mountain caribou, old growth strategies and other political initiatives could very easily mean more mill closures,” said Rustad.

“The old growth issue is a massive problem. A lack of reliable, accurate information is compounding the misinformation and misleading campaigns, and people forget that forest products are the most environmentally friendly products we can use. Reforestation, fibre utilization and forest management are critical to help us and the world address many concerns. But in order to be able to deliver these benefits, the forest sector needs a reliable, defined land base on which to work.”

Rustad also said that Girvan’s study isn’t a given, but a likely outcome based on what the government is moving towards.

Steve Zika, CEO of Hampton Lumber that owns Decker Lake Forest Products as well as Babine Forest Products spoke to Lakes District News. He said that though he hadn’t read Girvan’s study, there are other issues the industry is already facing on top of potential policy reforms.

“All wood products producers are struggling with crashing product prices and very high log prices. We have seen many mills across North America curtailing operating hours or reducing shifts to try and balance supply with weak demand. British Columbia suffers from the highest log costs in North America and a stumpage system that lags changes in product prices. Wildfires have also affected rail shipments to a certain degree and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create uncertainty in home building supply chains,” said Zika.

Zika also said that no curtailments for the sawmills at Babine and Decker Lake have been announced at this time, however Hampton Lumber continues to evaluate operating conditions on a week-by-week basis. Elsewhere, the Canfor mill in Houston recently opened up its doors again following a two-week shut down caused by rail system bottlenecks and other transportation issues brought on by wildfires.

In 2020, Nechako Lumber in Vanderhoof, Apollo Forest Products in Fort St. James, and Lakeland Mills in Prince George all closed down due to global market conditions brought on by the pandemic. The fear is that the market struggles already crippling the industry could be compounded by environmental policy implementations.

Since 2001, forestry jobs in B.C. have been cut from 200,000 to 100,000 today according to Statistics Canada.