British Columbia Mill Closures

The B.C. forest industry has been hugely impacted by mill curtailments and closures—including the permanent
shutdown of Canfor’s sawmill in Vavenby, in the B.C. Interior.

B.C. HARD HIT by mill closures, curtailments

British Columbia—particular the Interior of the province—has been hit hard by sawmill closures and curtailments, and it is having a definite, and big, ripple effect on the logging sector, says the new general manager of the Interior Logging Association, Todd Chamberlain.

By Jim Stirling

Sawmill closures and lumber production curtailments have British Columbia’s forest industry in a tailspin. The lives of the men and women living in the 140 or so forest dependent communities in the province along with the economies of their communities are in turmoil as a result. They are in need of constructive help to bridge the gap while the forest industry realigns itself.

That’s the kernel of the message being emphasized on every occasion by the Interior Logging Association (ILA) during its conversations with the provincial NDP government, explained Todd Chamberlain, the association’s new general manager, based in Vernon, B.C.

British Columbia Mill ClosuresThe fallout from the mountain pine beetle epidemic, two consecutive and devastating forest fire seasons along with international trade sanctions have come home to roost with a vengeance. Everyone knew the reduction in fibre was coming. But the suddenness and severity of its impacts continue to shock.

“At times like these, the log harvesting contractors, truckers and their families are focused on survival,” says Chamberlain. “The ILA is the contractors’ voice and our role of advocacy becomes more important.”

ILA members along with all the other independent contractors and truckers in the province are not the type of people who typically seek handouts, continued Chamberlain. And they’re not now. It’s more a case of a necessary return on many years of contractors’ contributions to governments through the course of running their businesses, he said.

The log contracting community played a significant and voluntary role during the terrible forest fire season of 2017. Residents in many rural communities throughout the B.C. Interior were forced to pick up what they could load onto trucks and flee as separate fires combined to create mega blazes. Even larger communities like 100 Mile House and Williams Lake had to be evacuated. A corps of logging contractors opted to stay behind with their equipment and operators to enlarge fire guards around their besieged communities—and do everything they could to protect property and infrastructure from the fires.

“They didn’t do it for recognition or accolades. They did it for their homes and communities. Now it’s time for B.C. to help them,” reckons Chamberlain.

He said the ILA and its directors received an attentive audience about the present plight of its membership recently from Ravi Kahlon. The New Democratic MLA for North Delta was appointed to the newly created position of secretary of state for forestry in July 2019. Kahlon’s first major assignment was to tour the province and learn first hand the implications of the sawmill closures and production curtailments on the people and economies in affected B.C. communities. And they have already been devastating.

The B.C. forests ministry’s own figures indicate three B.C. sawmills were permanently closed in the first seven months of 2019, 19 others were hit by production curtailments and shift reductions directly affecting about 4,000 workers. The ripple effects travel much further and deeper into community fabrics.

British Columbia Mill Closures“Kahlon sat down with members of the ILA and listened to our views,” reported Chamberlain. What happens next will depend, in part, on Kahlon’s fact-finding tour report to his boss, B.C. Premier John Horgan. In the meantime, the ILA is maintaining its advocacy role on behalf of its membership.

Chamberlain officially assumed the helm of the Interior Logging Association August 1. He took over from Wayne Lintott who has retired after 21 years as the association’s general manager. Despite the tough situation facing independent loggers and truckers in the B.C. Interior—or perhaps because of it—support for the ILA and its work remains vigorous.

“We still have about 450 members—in fact we’ve gained about 35 new members in the last few months,” he explained.

Part of that increase is likely attributable to Chamberlain taking the ILA’s message on the road, especially into the northern half of B.C. “I’ve probably talked to about 200 contractors there in the last year.”

Since the Central Interior Logging Association (CILA) based in Prince George was forced to suspend operations a few years ago, there has been no regional representation for independent logging contractors with the exception of the focused North West Loggers Association in Terrace.

“Issues in the north can be different,” conceded Chamberlain. “I want to find out more about that from those working there.” But the interior regions do share many concerns as reflected by the current call for assistance for all B.C.’s displaced independent loggers.

There is another positive trend within the ILA separate from membership numbers. “The ILA directors are becoming a lot more engaged in association work,” noted Chamberlain. The involvement includes more direct participation in the work of various industry committees. The assistance is welcomed on a couple of fronts. The ILA has only two employees, office administrator Nancy Hesketh and Chamberlain. But the increased involvement from the association’s directors in the detailed functioning of the ILA brings another major advantage, said Chamberlain. “You have contractors speaking out for other contractors. No one has better knowledge and expertise to do that.”

For more information about the ILA, contact the office at 250-503-2199 or [email protected]

Logging and Sawmilling Journal
October 2019

On the Cover:
James and Susan Willis manage J.A. Willis Contracting with ambition, strict business acumen, with a focus on efficient and productive equipment and highly motivated operators—it’s a powerful formula. Part of their core equipment is a Tigercat 845 harvester James first started using in B.C.—and continues to use in the logging operation they now run in New Brunswick, which now has a staggering 70,000 hours on it. The Willis logging operation also includes some recently acquired equipment such as the new Peterbilt truck with BWS quad trailer pictured on the cover. Read all about the Willis operation beginning on page 18 of this issue (Cover photo by George Fullerton).

B.C. hard hit by mill closures, curtailments
British Columbia—particular the Interior of the province—has been hit hard by sawmill closures and curtailments, and it is having a definite, and big, ripple effect on the logging sector, says the new general manager of the Interior Logging Association, Todd Chamberlain.

First Nations keeping the wood flow happening
First Nations and Métis communities are playing a key role in keeping the wood flow happening at Tolko Industries’ OSB plant in High Prairie Alberta, with a First Nations corporation managing all the log yard activities at the operation.

Opting for off-species
New Brunswick’s Tony Boyd took a somewhat circuitous route to sawmilling, via the trades and logging, but he’s now established a solid business producing custom wood products from a variety of off-species in the region.

A logging package that delivers
James Willis has logged in the West and East, working with the same dependable, productive Tigercat 845 buncher, though these days he has a new Log Max 6000V head, and opted for the Rotobec continuous rotator, a package that delivers the goods.

Taking care of business
B.C.’s Homalco First Nation is looking to build up its forestry operations, to make optimum use of their logging equipment—and to continue to grow its business and provide jobs and training for the band’s members.

The Edge
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from Alberta Innovates, Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) and FPInnovations.

The Last Word
Canada’s softwood lumber negotiating strategy is hurting, not helping, forestry workers, says Tony Kryzanowski.


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