BC’s largest forest companies are investing beyond our borders.
AN ALL TOO FAMILIAR from the forest industry continues to paint environmentalists and the protection of irreplaceable forests as a major driver of current and future job losses in the forest sector. Forestry workers and communities have every right to be upset—we’ve lost nearly 50,000 jobs in the forest sector since 2000. But the problem is not environmental protection, it’s corporate investment, automation, poor management decisions and BC’s largest forest companies no longer being as invested in our communities as they once were.
Over the last twenty years, BC’s largest forestry companies have used their record breaking made-in-BC profits to invest in mills in the United States and Europe while closing BC mills.
Since 2005, 35 sawmills in BC’s interior and nine on the coast have permanently shuttered.
Canfor, West Fraser, Interfor, Tolko, and Teal Jones alone have invested more than $7.1 billion USD in mills and forest operations in the US and Europe while closing mills and leaving whole communities like Canal Flats, Quesnel, Clearwater, Mackenzie to reinvent themselves in order to survive.
West Fraser has invested $4.5 billion USD in mills and operations located primarily in the U.S. south and the UK since 2000. Canfor has invested $1.3 billion in the southern U.S. and Europe since 2005. Interfor has invested approximately $863 million USD in mills and operations in the U.S. south since its first investment in 2013. Vernon based Tolko Industries has invested $400 million USD since 2018. Teal Jones has only disclosed one of their three investments for $31.75 million USD since 2004.
New Canfor mill in Louisiana
As large forest corporations cry wolf over the last of our ancient forests it’s hard to take them seriously as they have a long history of leaving behind our communities and have cared far more about the well-being of shareholders over the well-being of our forests and our communities.
Six years ago, Canfor announced it was closing its Canal Flats sawmill in Southeast BC According to the local Steel Workers Union, 170 jobs were lost that year. The community of Canal Flats was devastated by the loss. Less than three weeks after the Canal Flats closure announcement, Canfor purchased Anthony Forest Products in Arkansas for $93.5 million USD.
The pattern continued in 2020 when Canfor invested $110 million USD in the purchase of a sawmill in South Carolina less than one month after announcing the closure of its Isle Pierre sawmill near Prince George, leaving nearly 100 employees in sawdust.
What we know is that BC can’t compete with places like Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina where trees on fast growing plantation forests on private lands are logged every 20 to 40 years. Nor should British Columbia strive to manage our forests like that.
“The future of BC’s forest sector should be shaped by the communities, Indigenous Nations and landscapes
that make British Columbia so incredible.”
Our communities need to be at the forefront of the decisions that we make about our forests. For far too long those decisions have been made for corporations who have treated BC as a “fibre basket”—a low value producer of cheap “2 by 4” lumber, and who have no trouble leaving behind forest dependent communities when profits are meagre, and more money can be made in another jurisdiction.
We must shift the paradigm in how we do forestry in this province to urgently address the climate and biodiversity crisis that BC’s forest management has served to exacerbate.
Over the past decade, our forests have turned from a carbon sink to a carbon emitter due to fire and mismanagement. Sensitive species like caribou, fisher and some species of salmon are teetering on the brink of extinction in a great part due to the way we log and how much we log.
BC’s forest management must prioritize the health of water, wildlife, cultural values and local communities while ensuring that local employment is sustained. It’s time to move beyond our timber-centric thinking and value our globally important forests for more than just their timber.
The future of BC’s forest sector should be shaped by the communities, Indigenous Nations and landscapes that make British Columbia so incredible.
Eddie Petryshen lives in Kimberley in ?amak?is Ktunaxa and is a Conservation Specialist for Wildsight, recognized as a leader in large-scale conservation, sustainable community initiatives and environmental education since 1987.