B.C.’s forestry workers suffering as floods impact sector’s recovery

December 14, 2021

By: The Working Forest Staff

VANCOUVER CITY NEWS — As the clean-up continues from B.C.’s historic flooding this past month, the forest industry, a major area of the provincial economy, is waiting to see how it will recover.

Like a lot of infrastructure in the province, three consecutive “atmospheric rivers” through November and early December saw a few mills in the province take damage — including the major employer in flood-ravaged Merritt.

However, Susan Yurkovich – President of the BC Council of Forest Industries — says the main impact on the sector continues to be the shutdown of highways and rail links which have forced many forest companies to scale back operations.

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“We are a sector that is an export industry. The vast majority of our products are going to markets around the globe. So our transportation and logistics are critical to our business, and what you’ve seen over the last number of weeks is basically a massive disruption to the infrastructure system, whether that be roads or bridges or the rail. A lot of our product is being transmitted by rail. And of course, we’ve seen those disruptions carry on and not allow us to get our materials to the port and then to the market,” she said.

Yurkovich says they can only hold shipments for so long until inventory build-up.

“We know everybody’s working to get infrastructure back as quickly as possible, and the sooner we can do that, the better because we don’t just want to see curtailments, lasting longer. It creates an additional element of uncertainty, and that’s not good for families or for workers or for companies,” she said.

One of the most important things for the sector is predictable access to fibre at a reasonable price, according to Yurkovich. However, she says the level of uncertainty about prices might impact workers.

Many B.C. lumber producers are scaling back shifts for employees, which are some of the highest-paying jobs in the small towns they work in.

One of Canada’s largest forestry firms — West Fraser Timber — has seen its pulp shipments reduced to one-fifth of what they would normally be, while its lumber shipments are also down by close to one-third.

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