British Columbia braces for more closures as forestry sector continues to struggle

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B.C. sawmills laying off employees
WATCH: B.C. sawmills laying off employees – Jun 11, 2019

The B.C. government is struggling with a diminished wood supply, leading to job losses and mill closures across the province.

Norbord Inc. announced on Tuesday its intention to indefinitely curtail production in 100 Mile House, British Columbia in August, 2019.

The announcement comes after a string of closures and curtailments across the province.

WATCH (aired August 22, 2017): Forest fires affect lumber supply in B.C.

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Forest fires affect lumber supply in B.C.

“Our top priority are workers in those communities and families in those communities,” Donaldson said.

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“We have community transition response teams that are on the way to those communities and have already started work.”

Norbald says the Cariboo region has been under mounting wood supply pressure for the past decade as a result of the mountain pine beetle epidemic. The industry is also struggling because of significant wildfires that the province of British Columbia experienced in the summers of both 2017 and 2018.

The two factors have to led to a wood supply shortage and high wood prices do not support the economic operation of the mill.

“This is a difficult decision in response to extraordinary circumstances,” said Norbord’s president and CEO, Peter Wijnbergen.

“We have a first-rate team in 100 Mile House and this curtailment is in no way a reflection on our employees, their commitment to our customers and suppliers, or the local community.”

WATCH (June 1, 2017): Ottawa announces financial aid for softwood lumber industry

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Ottawa announces financial aid for softwood lumber industry

The company estimates approximately 160 employees will be impacted by this curtailment.

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On Monday, Canfor announced it will be curtailing operations at all British Columbia sawmills, except WynnWood. According to the company, the majority of mills will be curtailed for two weeks with extended curtailments of four weeks at Houston and Plateau, and six weeks at Mackenzie.

This comes following the previously announced closure of Vavenby, which will shut its doors in July.

“What we are seeing is that fiber supply going down and you have more mills chasing less timber. The combination is leading to the very difficult decision of either curtailments or mill closures,” said BC Council of Forest Industries CEO Susan Yurkovich.

“We have known this has been coming for some time.”

The industry is quick to acknowledge it is currently in a period of transition. The provincial government unveiled earlier this year a strategy for revitalizing the industry.

Part of the new plan is to reduce wood waste by redirecting it to B.C.’s pulp and paper mills. The province has also committed to improvements to harvest performance, ensuring more fibre is available for B.C. mills, including the pulp and paper sector.

“We are working on new forests policy to ensure more fiber comes out of the forest,” Donaldson said.

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“And focusing more of maximizing value rather than volume. Those things government can do.”

The province’s transition teams work with communities to help people find work in other sectors.

There has been growing concern in the forestry industry over raw logs being shipped out of the province to be processed. That has led to a decrease in jobs and fears that more job losses would come in an industry which was once the backbone of B.C.’s economy.

The B.C. Liberals say the latest round of shift curtailments is having a devastating impact on workers from across B.C. The opposition blames the government’s Bill 22 that gives the province the ability to veto the transfer of timber cutting.

“John Horgan and the NDP have made us the last place a company would want to invest in, under their watch, as B.C. has become the jurisdiction with the highest production costs in North America,” Liberal MLA John Rustad said.

“The fact that Canfor is not announcing similar reductions to any of its operations elsewhere in Canada or the U.S. just goes to show B.C. is no longer competitive under the NDP.”

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