The pine beetle is being blamed for mill closures in the north.

Pine beetle blamed for mill closures in the north

West Fraser Timber Company is blaming the pine beetle for the closure of its Houston sawmill.

West Fraser Timber Company is blaming the pine beetle for the closure of its Houston sawmill. The company ‘announced a ‘comprehensive Mountain Pine Beetle Plan (the “MPB Plan”)’ to address the effects of the mountain pine beetle infestation in the interior of British Columbia.

The company states that the infestation has killed vast portions of the interior pine forest, resulting in a continuing deterioration and loss of merchantable timber available to wood products producers in the interior of B.C.  West Fraser says the goal of their MPB Plan is to ‘ensure the viability and competitiveness’ of its B.C. operations in response to the lack of available timber supply following the beetle infestation.

Further south, Canfor announced the closure of its mill in Quesnel for the same reason. Don Kayne, president and CEO of Canfor Corporation, said the closure of the Quesnel mill is permanent. “The timber availability in the Quesnel region following the mountain pine beetle infestation unfortunately leaves us unable to continue operation of our Quesnel sawmill,” he said in a written statement.

The closures will affect more than 200 workers at each mill, according to the United Steelworks Union of northern B.C.  “I think for both of those communities and our members it’s going to be devastating news,” said president Frank Everitt.

He said that while rumours may have been going around, he certainly didn’t expect the closures, or their announcement, to happen so soon. “No matter how much people might have been in the know, certainly the majority of them didn’t have any idea today was going to bring about some announcements,” Everitt said.

Canfor said its 209 Quesnel-based employees will be offered positions elsewhere in the company. West Fraser said that it would be assisting its 225 Houston-based employees to transition into other West Fraser positions in B.C. and Alberta, “where possible.” The companies also said they have struck deals to exchange timber rights. Canfor will now take over forest tenures to support its mill in Houston, while West Fraser will acquire timber for its Quesnel sawmill.

MP Nathan Cullen said that the mill closures were “a blow few people realistically expected” and vowed to do all in his power to help the community adjust and move forward. “The most important thing right now is to support the many hundreds of people whose jobs are being affected by these cuts,” Cullen said.

Cullen also said the West Fraser closures are further evidence of the need for modernized forest tenure reform in British Columbia.  He noted the irony of the closures so soon after the provincial Liberals’ spring election promise to bring in stronger area-based tenure requirements