Forests Forum – Community Speaks Out on Sawmills, Logging

By Peter Atamanenko –

On Thursday, March 16, a meeting held at the Central Cariboo Arts Centre in Williams Lake brought in a progressive-minded think tank to share a few different ideas about the future of our public forests. A full house packed the old firehall, with about 70 people.

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Ben Parfitt, resource analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and Peter Ewart, of the Stand Up for the North Committee, both delivered presentations.

An important message from the keynote speakers was that we are not alone—other communities, other millworkers, and independent loggers are facing the same kind of problems found in the Cariboo-Chilcotin. Forestry towns like 100 Mile House and Williams Lake join the ranks of many other communities hit hard by the boom-and-bust management of the logging industry. What’s more, jobs keep disappearing even when there are plenty of logs being harvested.

Researcher Ben Parfitt counts almost 100 mills that have closed their doors in the last 20 years in BC, but the pace of logging continues, with or without local loggers and millworkers in smaller communities. Most of this simply can’t be blamed on pine beetles, either. Today, only 10 companies control more than two thirds of BC’s forests—68 per cent of all allocated timber.

The Steelworkers Union spoke out about the sharp effect of the industry’s mechanization, and big job losses in the large local sawmills, where their members have worked. The Steelworkers union co-hosted this public event in Williams Lake, along with the Cariboo-Chilcotin Conservation Society.

Parfitt reports that in the BC Interior, “three companies control 61 per cent of the output from all large sawmills … Canadian Forest Products, West Fraser Mills, and Tolko Industries.” Now, do any of those names sound familiar in the Cariboo?

There have big job losses in recent years, and fewer local benefits from these huge Cariboo-Chilcotin logging and sawmilling operations. Logging and mill companies still lead the Cariboo economy, but overall, the economic benefits haven’t been shared locally.

The guest speakers shared a concern that, in BC, the forest companies’ commitment to value-added has never been lower—and it’s needed more than ever. Parfitt suggests that it’s vital to get “more from less” since logging rates are going to go way down in many parts of the Interior, as well. Options include using some of today’s technologies to produce more wood-manufactured products from less timber.

Parfitt reports that by the BC Government’s own measure, in the Prince George timber area for example, logging rates are running far out of control. “According to a recent provincial government timber supply analysis by senior Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources staff, those rates may need to be halved in just three years,” he said, adding another, more sensible direction for forestry would be to “reset logging rates to sustainable levels” throughout BC. This industry has been missing some long-term oversight by the self-regulating logging corporations.

Other major alternatives include long-term, area-based forest tenures directly for First Nations, to lay the ground work for more secure forestry jobs and economic opportunities.

For starters, Parfitt proposes that, at a minimum, BC should immediately phase-out all raw, unprocessed log exports, and up-to-date stumpage rates could be brought in too, for the big logging companies. Modern stumpage would be a simple way for the companies to start to pay their way. And it’s also a way to fund new regional public forests boards, another a way to bring back wise stewardship to our forests.

Other suggestions were to create new regional markets, for sorting logs and sales (sort of like the ranchers’ co-op and stockyard in Williams Lake.) This has been done before in Vernon.

More value-added wood jobs could be created by “partnership timber sales,” like those done before by BC’s Small Business Forest Enterprise Program. This means Primary lumber producers could bid, only after demonstrating that they have a sales relationship with a value-added producer.
At the meeting, a wide range of people wanted to see some kind of return to the former, local-value-added requirements, that used to be a bottom-line requirement in BC forest licences. Called ‘appur-tenancy’, it disappeared in 2003.

People also expressed their concerns about today’s mismanagement of public forests, raw-log trade, and disappearing sawmill jobs. Many members of the public called for urgent, positive changes in our local forests. In the independent wood processors sector, over half the companies have shut down or gone out of business entirely, in the last 15 years.

The Williams Lake Forestry Forum was one of five public events held this March, in Northern and Central BC. In Fort St. James, a representative from the Tl’azt’en First Nation appealed to neighbouring communities and community groups to work together in common cause, for improvements in forestry and natural-resource oversight.

These forestry meetings were organized by the independent, volunteer group, Stand Up for the North Committee, which receives no funding from corporations or government. The group is trying to promote real public discussion about BC’s northern economy, and a healthier future for our communities. For more information visit www.facebook.com/StandUpForTheNorth and to see Centre for Policy Alternatives researcher Ben Parfitt’s easy-to-read 10 recommendations, www.policynote.ca/forestryjobsbc/.

Pete Atamanenko is a writer and part-time ranch hand at 150 Mile House.

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