There was a not a seat left at the “Rethinking Forestry Forum” held in Terrace, British Columbia in hopes of finding long-term solutions to the economic downtown that has rocked the industry.
This year more than 4,000 forestry workers have lost their jobs according to the province.
Eighty-five per cent of First Nations in the province have signed forest consultation and revenue sharing agreements, and the downturn is also affecting these nations.
Roger Keery, president of Skeena Sawmills, was pleased to see industry focus their energy to find solutions to improve forestry.
“There is an enormous amount of experience of people in the forest industry,” said Keery. “It’s common to have people who have worked in this for 30 plus years who have tried a lot of things and seen these problems and wrestled with them.”
The northern terrain itself creates challenges.
Building roads through coastal mountains is costly and tree growth is slower than in southern regions.
“The value of the fibre here is on average lower than in some other parts of the province and the logging costs are high,” Keery said.
“Those are some of the historic issues for logging in this area”.
The forum was arranged by Skeena MLA Ellis Ross after residents shared job concerns with mill closures happening around the rest of the province.
“This is really bad what’s happening in B.C., 89 mills either closed or curtailed.
“I don’t want to see that, there has got to be a long term solution to this”, said Ross.
Another challenge is high stumpage fees which are what industry pays the government to harvest timber on Crown lands.
Those fees make it harder to be competitive in the market. An idea shared here was stumpage fees applied on average over multiple permits rather than each permit having a separate fee.
The industry is also in search of new markets.
Terrace Resident Chayo Nyawello has been trying to reach a deal to sell timber to Africa.
He put together a plan that was approved by federal and provincial governments.
“In the last two years, the year before I travelled to Africa to Ethiopia and Sudan. I looked around and I saw the opportunity in those countries as a new market for Canadian wood products,” said Nyawello.
In Ethiopia, he discussed with government officials the benefit of building homes with Canadian lumber.
“My meeting was very good with him. He said go into the community look for the construction companies and sell your ideas to them – that building with wood and wood housings are the best”, he said.
Ross says MLAs are looking at how other wood producing countries like Sweden have built a sustainable and profitable forestry industry.
“Are we at year one of BC having a 30-year plan for forestry, I am hopeful we can get to that conversation and make it more sustainable”
In late September, loggers staged a rally in downtown Vancouver. They drove their trucks through the downtown to raise awareness of the struggles the industry is facing.