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Mackenzie mayor blasts lumber giants

Mackenzie mayor Joan Atkinson says government policies need to change give local harvesters access to timber
The permanent closure of Paper Excellence’s Mackenzie Pulp Mill in April 2021 has been followed by a series of curtailments at the Conifex sawmill in Mackenzie.

There’s no lack of fibre in the Mackenzie Timber Supply Area, according to Mackenzie mayor Joan Atkinson.

She says they have all the trees they need to sustain a healthy forest industry.

The problem, Atkinson says, is the lumber giants have locked up the rights to harvest timber in that vast territory and they’re not willing to part with it.

“It’s not fibre supply that has robbed our community of hundreds of jobs, it’s current forest policy that has crippled my community,” said Atkinson, who spoke through an online link to a crowd of about 200 who attended the Future of Forestry forum Tuesday night at UNBC.’s Canfor Theatre.

Atkinson says Mackenzie, a town of about 3,700, has lost more than 400 direct forestry jobs in the past three-and-a-half years, mostly due to mill closures. Paper Excellence permanently closed Mackenzie Pulp Mill in April 2021, which follows on the heels of several smaller sawmill closures that started in 2008.

Atkinson said the removal 20 years ago of appurtenancy, which meant that wood sent to mills was tied to the communities from which that wood was harvested, allowed tenure holders to close community-owned mills, which is what happened in Mackenzie.

“That was the beginning of the end for many small rural forest-dependent communities and now Mackenzie residents watch loaded logging truck after loaded logging truck heading down the highway to be processed at large centralized super-mills,” said Atkinson.

“Although the Canfor sawmill in our community has been closed permanently for more than three years, they still hold the largest tenure volume in our (timber supply area) - a million cubic metres that they’ve held on to for 3 ½ years. It astounds me, it disappoints me, it makes me angry the government is allowing companies to retain tenure when they have abandoned their obligation to provide jobs to our communities in exchange for those tenure rights.”