Cedar is graded at Western Forest Products sawmill on Vancouver Island. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

Another B.C. forest company looks south for lumber mill expansion

Premier John Horgan promises ‘carrots and sticks’ to grow sawmill jobs

As the B.C. government prepares plans to keep more logs and mill jobs in the province, the latest in a string of forest companies has continued to put its expansion investment into the United States.

Western Forest Products announced Friday it has closed a deal to buy Columbia Vista Corp. sawmill operations in Washington. Columbia Vista has operated at Vancouver, WA for more than 60 years, and now employs about 90 people producing 60 million board feet per year of Douglas fir products for the U.S. and Japan markets.

As B.C. forest companies have struggled with pressure on timber supply from diminished coastal logging and fire and beetle damage across the Interior, mills have cut production or closed while companies invest in U.S. facilities. Interfor Corp., one of the largest lumber producers in the world, has expanded by buying sawmills in Georgia, Arkansas and South Carolina.

B.C.-based Canfor Corp.’s latest acquisition is also in South Carolina, along with a 70 per cent stake in Vida Group, with nine sawmills in southern Sweden.

Western is B.C.’s largest coastal lumber producer, much of it Crown tenure on Vancouver Island. Some Island forests are private land, the legacy of colonial Governor James Douglas’ 1850s deal with coal baron James Dunsmuir to trade Crown land for construction of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E&N) Railway.

“This acquisition is consistent with our strategy of pursuing margin-focused business opportunities that complement our position in selected markets,” Western CEO Don Demens said in a statement.

RELATED: B.C. government extends northern log export exemptions

RELATED: B.C. loggers brace for changes to century-old export rules

Premier John Horgan spoke out about the trend of log exports and disappearing B.C. mill jobs at the recent Truck Loggers Association convention, following up with another speech the next week at the B.C. Natural Resource Forum in Prince George.

“For the last 20 years, employment on the coast has declined by about 40 per cent,” Horgan told the TLA convention in Vancouver Jan. 17. “Lumber production has dropped by 45 per cent, pulp production by 50 per cent. At the same time, log exports from Crown land have increased by nearly tenfold.”

Horgan promised “carrots and sticks,” to create incentives for mills in B.C. and reduce the export of “raw logs,” a ritual NDP term that has become a rallying cry on the B.C. coast.

In Prince George, Horgan promised to eliminate “surrogate bidding” so smaller lumber producers aren’t blocked from buying B.C. logs that are destined for Asian markets.

The industry is awaiting details of the province’s plans for export rules and incentives.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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