Logging in B.C.’s Cariboo region: high log prices and low lumber prices have led to mill curtailments. (Black Press files)

B.C. lumber mills struggle with shortage of logs, price slump

Signs of recovery after U.S. market swings, industry executive says

A wave of B.C. sawmill shutdowns and layoffs is a combination of reduced log supply, high log prices and a steep drop in lumber prices, forest industry executives say.

Lumber prices hit a record of $650 per 1,000 board feet early this year as U.S. housing demand ramped up and B.C. producers piled up lumber due to a shortage of rail cars, partly caused by increased oil-by-rail shipments.

That lumber inventory glut got moving as other producers switched from Asia to the U.S. for the high prices, and then the price fell below $300, said Susan Yurkovich, CEO of the B.C. umbrella group Council of Forest Industries.

“We’re looking for some price improvement,” Yurkovich told Black Press in an interview this week. “We’ve seen it improve a little bit over the last number of weeks, but that doesn’t change the fundamental issue around availability of fibre, in the Interior in particular, and the high fibre costs across the province.”

The log shortage is the tail end of a 15-year decline due to the mountain pine beetle epidemic in the B.C. Interior. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said in an interview the job losses are partly a result of abnormally high salvage logging, and now the reduced allowable cut on Crown forest land is showing its effects.

Forest fires interrupted logging, but 2.4 million cubic metres of fire salvage timber were approved this summer for sawmills, Donaldson said.

“We’re working with the community transition action team to identify skills training that could occur,” Donaldson said. “We want to try to keep people in their communities if they desire, and find jobs that are there.”

The province has increased land recovery spending by $22 million over three years, and that means “boots on the ground for reforestation,” he added.

Quesnel has been particularly affected, after Tolko Industries announced a shutdown of its sawmill there in October, affecting 100 direct jobs and associated logging. Tolko had previously shut down its Merritt sawmill, as B.C. companies adjusted to reduced allowable timber cut.

Then West Fraser Timber announced last week it is ending its third shift at its Quesnel and Fraser Lake sawmills, with more than 100 layoffs, a move described as permanent by B.C.’s largest lumber producer.

Conifex began a shutdown of its Fort St. James mill on Nov. 12, saying it will last at least four weeks.

Interfor announced in October it is reducing production by about 20 per cent for the fourth quarter at its mills in the B.C. Interior, with reduced operating days and extended weekend and holiday breaks. Interfor has mills at Grand Forks, Castlegar and Chase.

Canfor Corp. announced Nov. 1 it is curtailing its B.C. mill operations by about 10 per cent during the fourth quarter of this year. Canfor president Don Kayne said the decision is a result of “log supply challenges following another difficult wildfire season, uncompetitive log costs and declining lumber prices.”

Teal Jones Group, with mills in Surrey, the Fraser Valley and Salmon Arm, has had a series of week-long shutdowns this year, also mainly due to a shortage of logs.

Yurkovich and Donaldson are joining B.C.’s annual forest industry trade mission to Asia in December, with stops in China, Japan and Korea. Donaldson said the focus continues to be on not just increasing Asia lumber trade, but selling more sophisticated wood products than lumber.

“That’s where the long-term future lies, in adding more value,” Donaldson said.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislatureforestry

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension faces potential delays due to COVID-19

Pandemic ‘adversely’ impacting TransLink’s finances; ‘much work’ required to approve next investment plan

SIMPSON: For real leadership amid crisis, look west of Scott Road

Delta council, under direction of Mayor George Harvie, defines leadership during pandemic

PHOTOS: Loved ones reunite at Peace Arch Park ‘oasis’

Officials closed the park in mid-March over coronavirus concerns

Cloverdale businessman funds wells in Cambodia

Revive Washing in Clayton Heights donates three per cent of profits to charity

Cloverdale youth pastor’s sexual-assault sentencing delayed

Samuel Emerson due to return to Surrey Provincial Court in August

Mission prison COVID-19 outbreak ends, 9 new cases in B.C.

New positive test at Port Coquitlam care home

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

We’re asking you to lock arms with us, as we look to better days ahead

Man who bound, murdered Vancouver Island teen still a risk to public: parole board

Kimberly Proctor’s killer is still ‘mismanaging emotions,’ has had ‘temper tantrums’

VIDEO: Humpback whales put on quite a show

The ‘playful’ pod lingered by a Campbell River tour operator’s boat for quite some time

Getting hitched at historic B.C. gold rush town still on table during COVID-19 pandemic

Micro-weddings, online visits, offered at Barkerville Historic Town and Park

VIDEO: Police look for suspect seen tripping elderly woman in Burnaby

The elderly woman was walking near the SkyTrain station when she was randomly tripped

Chilliwack teachers, assistants concerned with lack of PPE guidelines ahead of school reopening

As schools get ready to open, many worry measures won’t be enough to protect students from COVID-19

Revelstoke woman finds welcoming letter on her Alberta-registered truck

There have been multiple reports online of vandalism to vehicles with Alberta licence plates

Spirit bear possibly spotted in West Kootenay

A local resident spotted the white-coloured bear while on an evening trail run near Castlegar on May 27

Most Read