VANCOUVER, B.C. – B.C.’s logging industry is hemorrhaging, and a recent truck convoy in Vancouver aimed to shed some light on job losses in the forestry sector.
With more than 100 trucks making up the convoy, trucks traveled through the city of Vancouver Sept. 25. Media reports from Vancouver indicated that the convoy congregated near the Pacific National Exhibition, and originated from several communities that are reeling from the financial impact of the logging industry’s downturn.
David Elstone, executive director of the Truck Loggers Association (TLA), said though his organization played no role in organizing the convoy, he did thank drivers who passed by his Vancouver office to show his “appreciation for the attention they were generating for the issues facing the industry.”
And there have been no shortage of issues negatively impacting B.C.’s logging sector.
In a message to industry, Elstone wrote that supply and demand for lumber is suffering. With China imposing tariffs on U.S. lumber, more American forest products are remaining in the U.S., he stated, which translates to lackluster demand and less need for Canadian lumber.
As for supply, Elstone said sawmill costs are on the rise, and the U.S. continues to impose a 20% tariff on Canadian softwood lumber imports. He added that lumber prices are currently half of what they were a year ago, meaning the economically available timber supply in B.C.’s interior is substantially less.
“It should be no surprise then that B.C. sawmills and other forest product manufacturers have been announcing curtailments or permanent closures of their facilities in the province,” wrote Elstone.
Another issue impacting the logging sector in B.C. is the decimation of pine trees due to the mountain pine beetle, as well as forest fires.
Citing Jim Girvan, a board member and strategic advisor for the Western Forestry Contractors’ Association, Elstone said 13 sawmills could close in the next decade.
The TLA is working to bring some relief to those in the industry by shaping new sections of the “Timber Harvesting Contract and Subcontract Regulation”, helping replaceable and non-replaceable contractors. They also released the TimberTracks Hourly Equipment Rate Sheet to improve knowledge of equipment costs.
Elstone said in his message that government must work to generate business conditions that are favorable for investors of future manufacturing facilities, something he said is not currently being accomplished.
The B.C. government did pledge $69 million to fund a new series of measures aimed at supporting provincial forest workers impacted by mill closures and shift reductions.
The government said the interior forest industry has been reducing production due to the mountain pine beetle and forest fire devastation in 2017-18.
“The previous government knew that the end of mountain pine beetle harvest would disrupt the lives of forest workers, contractors, and communities, but they did little to prepare for this inevitable transition,” said Premier John Horgan. “While the forest sector must reduce surplus milling capacity to remain competitive, it cannot do so at the expense of the workers, contractors, and communities who built the industry. Our government will ensure that forest workers impacted by mill closures are supported.”
Horgan, along with Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development Doug Donaldson, outlined the funding to include $40 to establish a cost-shared, early-retirement bridging program; $15 million for a new short-term forest employment program; $12 for workers to access skills training; $2 million to establish a job placement coordination office; and community support grants to communities profoundly impacted by layoffs.
“The province is committed to supporting the people impacted by this change, but we need the forest industry and the federal government to step up and do their part as well,” Donaldson said. “I’m hopeful that the interior forest sector recognizes that the new industry that will arise from this transition will need skilled, experienced workers to produce new forest products that can compete in global markets.”