Almost 4,000 people across the province have been impacted by closures and curtailments in B.C’s forest industry.
“It’s been a struggle,” said Angus Woodman, plant manager at Downie Timber. The plant plans to shut its sawmill for the first week of September and be operational again Sept. 9.
However, other departments will still be working, such as shipping, maintenance and the log yard. There are roughly 50 workers in the sawmill.
This will be the third closure in the last year. The sawmill briefly closed in November and the first week in August. Workers were also given Fridays off in March.
|Downie Timber gets some of their timber from the Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation, which is owned by the City of Revelstoke. This is the corporation’s yard earlier this year. (File)|
Multiple mills across the province have curtailed production or even shut. For example, the Tolko sawmill in Quesnel, B.C., closed earlier this month, resulting in roughly 150 jobs lost.
Forestry companies have blamed the shutdowns on poor market conditions and log shortages due to mountain pine beetle and wildfires.
Last year, the price of lumber was at an all-time high in May at $659 USD/1000 board feet for spruce-pine-fir two by fours. The increase in price was due to timber shortages from fires, difficulty in transportation and a housing boom in the U.S.
As of Aug. 23, lumber is $361 USD/1000 board feet. Record low was $111 in 1984.
Downie Timber is one of the main employers in Revelstoke, with up to 300 employees.
While Woodman said the current economic climate is difficult, Downie is fortunate to have its fingers in multiple markets, such as the U.S., Ontario and Japan.
However, poor weather has led to decreased demand in Canada.
“Less than a month ago it was still raining in Ottawa and if it’s raining people aren’t outside enjoying their cedar decks. If you’re building a deck, you won’t be doing it if it’s raining,” said Woodman.
According to the Weather Network, July was one of the rainiest months in the last five years for Toronto.
Downie focuses on specialty products, such as lumber for decks, panels, and fencing. Cedar is the main type of wood for the company.
Yet, Woodman said demand for cedar is low right now.
Therefore, the company is trying to increase cutting of hemlock and fir, which is selling. However, switching takes time. For example, roads need to be planned and built to areas with those species.
“We have to work with the best we have.”
Woodman said Downie is fairly adaptable and a market leader.
While Downie Timber is unlikely to close, it could happen.
“Now, we’re trying to build a business plan so it won’t happen. And I’m confident that it won’t. However, I’m sure the people in Quesnel thought the same. And then it did.”
He continued that many of the mill curtailments and closures are happening in remote, isolated and rural communities. Like Revelstoke.
“This situation should be a real eye opener.”
Other factors heavily impacting the forest industry include tariffs.
Since 2017, the U.S. has placed a 20 per cent tax on Canadian lumber. Woodman said the tariffs are crippling; costing the company millions.
“It’s money that could optimize the sawmill or find ways to get more value out of our lumber.”
He said 65 per cent of their cedar goes to the U.S.
In an email statement from Vanessa Adams, press secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, she wrote, “Our government has and will continue to be there with our steadfast support for the sector, and for the thousands of workers and families that rely on the forest sector.”
She noted that the federal government has invested millions to support innovation in the forestry sector.
“Where they cut, we have invested; where they stepped back, we have stepped up to vigorously defend and advocate for our forest sector.”
In an email from the B.C. Ministry of Forests, they said the government will do everything they can to ensure support systems are in place on behalf of forestry workers to minimize curtailments and closures.
Woodman said after the September closure, the company does not have any more planned.