Unusual silence on mill closures?

The start up of the new Babine Forest Products mill is just around the corner.

The start up of the new Babine Forest Products mill is just around the corner. With the first logs rolling into the Babine yard last week, there is a real sense that things have made the final corner before the home stretch ending in the mill re-opening.

That’s great news for Burns Lake. Not only for direct local employment, but for businesses tied to the mill’s operation, and for this community with its strong historical ties to forestry.

We celebrate the first logs rolling into Babine, but let’s not forget a community down the highway losing a large mill. The last logs to be processed at the Houston Forest Products mill are probably already in that mill’s yard.

The announcement of the spring closures of mills in Quesnel and Houston came and went without much big-picture analysis or the wringing of hands. The proposed swap of forest licenses between Canfor and West Fraser hasn’t attracted much attention either.

The relative silence on these events is a head-scratcher.

Two giants of B.C. forestry were able to simultaneously announce the closure of mills and negotiate major timber license swaps, without anyone catching wind of it. Isn’t that exactly what people were afraid would happen if the control of forestry rested too tightly in the hands of a few major forest companies?

According to public relations spokespersons for both companies, the provincial government was almost the last to know, receiving scant more notice than the those in the communities affected.

This is difficult to believe, but what is even more difficult to understand is the lack of sustained interest in what happened. Supposedly, there was a lot of merchantable timber left in dead pine stands, enough to keep mills running for quite a while.

Nobody was talking about mill closures as significant as those in Houston and Quesnel so soon.

Well, almost nobody. Former MP Bob Simpson was pretty much bang on with his prediction for when Quesnel would run out of timber supply to support its mills.

No doubt, some people tired of Simpson’s vocal criticism of provincial forest policy during the last election cycle, but out of all the pundits Simpson got it right, at least as far as Quesnel was concerned.

The last election is far enough in the past that today’s events aren’t quickly associated with it. Do you believe the mill closures and license swaps weren’t in the works before the last election?

It’s a moot point now, but it makes you stop and wonder what else is in the works for those who are the last to know, the workers, families, and communities directly impacted by mill closures.

When the province announced last year that it would be modifying the forest act to allow for the conversion of forest licenses to tree farm licenses (TFLs), there was an unrelenting barrage of criticism of the idea.

Critics said the province was setting up the privatization of B.C.’s forests in the hands of a few major industry players.

The criticism became so heavy that just before the last election, the province backed off the measures and postponed the changes until some vague notion of public consultation on the issue came to pass.

We were told those public consultations would happen this past summer. Nothing happened.

At this point, maybe it doesn’t matter. Even without TFLs, two majors were able to function as if they privately owned their tenures.

Maybe two major mills in Houston was just too much capacity for any one location given post-pine beetle realities. That might be a comforting thought – as long as you didn’t work at or contract with Houston Forest Products.

But are things fine now? Have we found an equilibrium where what’s in the forest matches our capacity to process it, or are we just waiting for the hammer to drop in other communities?

 

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