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West Fraser CEO calls for change to old-growth policy

West Fraser Mills operates several facilities in the Quesnel-area
Ray Ferris is the President and CEO of West Fraser Mills. (Submitted Photo - West Fraser Mills)


British Columbia is blessed with rich natural resources, including an abundant timber supply. As the CEO of the largest producer of renewable building products in the world, I am proud to call B.C. home to our company that was founded in 1955 by the Ketcham brothers near Quesnel.

West Fraser operates 11 production facilities in the interior of the province, manufacturing dimension lumber, pulp, plywood, and medium-density fiberboard (MDF). We generate electricity from wood residuals to power our mills, and two of our locations provide 12 megawatts of power each to BC Hydro to supply residential customers.

Our business in B.C., the 3,000 people we directly employ, and the interior communities we call home are directly impacted by the Government of B.C.’s decision to defer forest operations in areas deemed as “old growth” by a panel appointed by government.

Initial coverage of government’s announcement paid particularly close attention to the environmental aspects of the decision, the effect it might have on protesters at Fairy Creek, and much less attention to the potential impact to families, communities, and First Nations. Some mistakenly suggested “coastal” areas and Vancouver Island would bear the impact, but they are not alone; the effects will be felt right across the province.

Old growth should be protected and for the most part, in B.C. already is. I fully support identifying and protecting ancient trees and remnant forests and adding them to the 3.5 million hectares of old growth already protected in the province.

When you think “old growth” you likely conjure up an image of a giant old fir, perhaps as large as three meters across. Curiously, the Province’s policy goes well beyond grand, old trees and contemplates protection of much smaller, younger trees that have just reached maturity.

Globally, we face a climate crisis. Countries gathered earlier this month at COP26 in Scotland to talk about urgent action necessary to address this challenge. Forests were recognized for being an important part of the solution. Forests provide the air we breathe, act as carbon sinks, and can yield products that store carbon for centuries. Forests really do matter.

B.C. is well positioned to lead the world in providing renewable wood products that can displace concrete and steel across the globe. Our practices and products are responsibly sourced, meet the highest environmental standards, are third-party certified, and are the right choice for consumers who truly care about sustainability and the planet.

But we require a working forest to fulfill that role.

So, what does Government mean when it says 4,500 jobs will be “impacted” by its old growth decisions? It means the loss of high-paying, family-supporting jobs. It means families moving away from communities to urban areas in search of work. It typically means the collapse of local real estate markets and the destruction of family savings. It means school closures.

READ MORE: Cariboo Pulp and Paper to shut down due to transportation issues

Our governments like to talk about how they will create “green jobs”. Instead, B.C.’s Forest Minister predicted it would eliminate 4,500 green jobs; those held by people who survey, plan, harvest, plant, and tend to our forests and those who manufacture renewable forest products.

The industry experts believe it could be 18,000 or more jobs. I am concerned that the Minister is underestimating the impact.

Until now, successive governments have been deft at striking the right balance. Government could have chosen a path that would allow the province to maintain its position as a world leading producer of renewable building products, while celebrating the fact that it already protects and enjoys some of the largest, richest old growth forests in the world.

Rather than strike that balance, government chose a different path, making it clear where they stand.

By contrast, I, like many others, stand with our employees and other hard working forest sector workers and their families, along with the thriving communities they have helped build.

British Columbians should mourn the loss of these green jobs, and the lost opportunity for B.C. to be a world leading producer of sustainably sourced wood building products.

Ray Ferris

President and CEO

West Fraser

PHOTOS: Battling the West Fraser Log Yard fire

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