The news this week that West Fraser is permanently getting rid of its third shift in its sawmills here in Quesnel and in Fraser Lake was surprising, and a little scary.
With a company the size of West Fraser, it’s easy to feel a false sense of security that these things won’t affect one of our city’s largest employers. But of course, the changes to our environment are having a huge impact on the forestry industry, and West Fraser is not immune to these effects.
As West Fraser told the Observer, the production cuts are due to log shortages, not market conditions (although they did concede that travelling farther afield, outside their timber supply area, for logs has become no longer economical as prices rise). And log shortages are due to the enemy of the tall trees, Mountain Pine Beetle, as well as the enormous forest fires B.C. has experienced in the last two years.
West Fraser’s cuts affect 75 people in Quesnel, and luckily the company is large enough here to absorb those employees back into other roles within its five mills in town. We are sure that’s a relief for our workers to hear, but it’s no perfect solution. There are already workers in the local market seeking jobs, after Tolko curtailed operations mid-October, with no word yet on whether the mill will be starting up again any time soon. And what if more cuts are needed?
There do remain glimmers of hope on the horizon for the timber industry in Quesnel, however. The local government has been working steadily to try to come up with ways our city can diversify its economy – both in moving away from forestry to some degree, but also by changing the way the forestry industry works.
And the City of Quesnel just received a boost for its forestry project, being handed a $367,000 grant to further its work (see page A3).
Now, rethinking the way an entire sector works is not something that’s going to happen overnight, we all know that. Short term, our city may continue to struggle. But at least there’s something in the works, with a team of renowned scientists guiding the way to a more sustainable industry, and with City Council investigating different ways we can use fibre or participate in a construction industry that is booming in our province.
As much as we might like to, we can’t just plug our ears and close are eyes and sing, “la la la” at the top of our lungs: the environmental factors affecting B.C.’s Interior aren’t going away.
Change is forcing change, and we’re on the bandwagon.
Quesnel Cariboo Observer