Forest industry’s uncertain future

Although the Canadian and U.S. governments are promising to continue talks, tensions have significantly grown

I think it’s safe to say that the future of the forest industry in the Burns Lake area doesn’t look very bright at the moment.

With the annual allowable cut of the Burns Lake Community Forest (BLCF) being reduced to 63,000 cubic metres in 2020, the BLCF and the Chinook Community Forest will represent only a portion of the log supply required to keep two local sawmills operating – Babine Forest Products and Decker Lake Forest Products.

In addition, there is a growing uncertainty around a possible lumber agreement between the U.S. and Canada.

Although the Canadian and U.S. governments are promising to continue talks towards a “durable and equitable solution” for North American softwood lumber producers, tensions have significantly grown over the past few months.

The U.S. Lumber Coalition says Canada’s “unfair lumber subsidies” have for decades harmed the U.S. lumber industry, threatening its workers with mounting unemployment, and denying many tree farmers a market for their timber crops (I wouldn’t be surprised if they asked president Barack Obama to build wall).

To make matters worse, the protection of the latest softwood lumber agreement expired last week, and as of Oct. 12, the U.S. industry is free to launch new trade actions against Canada. The good news (kind of) is that new tariffs can’t be imposed until six months after a formal complaint is filed.

This is extremely relevant to our area because any new additional tariffs could have a negative impact on our two large sawmills, including less operation hours or closures.

Since forestry remains Burns Lake’s main industry and employs hundreds of people, we shouldn’t underestimate how our town could be negatively impacted¬† if any of these two sawmills closed down.

That’s why I applaud the village for trying to be proactive when it comes to our local economy. After anticipating a possible loss of economic activity in the years to come, the village is in the process of creating a plan to find solutions and possibly diversify the local economy.

The village says their current plan is to create a task force – involving community leaders and industry – to steer the local economy in the right direction, possibly by investing in other industries such as tourism and agriculture.

Tourism and agriculture sector development were already identified as priorities in the village’s economic development plan, which was adopted by council earlier this year.

Will these strategies be enough to ensure Burns Lake keeps growing? Will there be enough time to implement them before we feel a loss of economic activity?

Although those questions might not have answers yet, they will have to be a top priority for whoever becomes the next Burns Lake mayor.

Burns Lake will have some interesting years ahead and Lakes District News will certainly be asking our elected officials these questions.

Meanwhile the provincial government is trying to diversity lumber trade beyond the U.S. market. B.C. Forests Minister Steve Thomson is heading a forest industry trade mission to Japan and China next month.