Forestry companies aim to overhaul coastal logging industry

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VANCOUVER, B.C. — Even without the softwood lumber dispute with the U.S., the B.C. coastal forest industry would still be on the verge of collapse if dramatic changes aren’t soon made.

That was the consensus of the regions three biggest forestry companies Weyerhaeuser, Timberwest and Interfor outlined in a report that was released yesterday.

The companies are calling on the province and industry to completely overhaul the forestry industry over the next 10 years. Seventy per cent of coastal mills were closed altogether or temporarily last year, the report indicates.

“If the softwood lumber duties go away tomorrow, the coast would still be facing significant problems,” Craig Neeser, vice-president for Weyerhaeuser in B.C. told local media. “As tough as it may sound, we have to change our business model. The market is not going to save us.”

The report indicates the B.C. coastal region is the most expensive place in the world to harvest forest products. Meanwhile, coastal stands of old-growth forests have either been diminished or placed off limits meaning the B.C. Interior is now home to the most profitable timber production.

In order to level the playing field and get log and lumber trucks once again rolling along the B.C. coast, the report says the industry needs up to $1 billion in new capital investment. It also says the industry must: double the amount of lumber used for specialty products; increase the amount it invests in product development and promotion; and upgrade sawmills into more technically advanced mills to process smaller second-growth logs.

“Rebuilding the industry will require the implementation of policy reform, modernization of our labour agreements and capital reinvestment,” Paul McElligott, Timberwest Forest Corp.’s president and chief executive officer told reporters. “We believe there is potential to create more than 5,000 new jobs by year 2013 and that’s net of the downsizing that has to occur at the front end.”

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