B.C.'s lumber industry takes another hit as Chasm mill set to close

B.C.'s lumber industry has been struck another blow with the announcement that West Fraser would permanently close its Chasm mill and eliminate the third shift from its 100 Mile House mill.

This will result in a total loss of 210 jobs - 176 in Chasm (that is between Clinton and 70 Mile House) and the rest at 100 Mile House - to take effect sometime between July and September.

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Ray Ferris, president of Vancouver-based West Fraser, said the decision to close Chasm and reduce shifts at 100 Mile House was due to a lack of supply, high saw-log costs and price declines for processed lumber.

"This decision is the result of well-documented timber supply constraints owing to B.C.'s devastating mountain pine beetle infestation, recent record wildfires, price declines in lumber markets and high saw-log costs," Ferris said in a prepared statement.

Ferris also attributed blame to "reduced harvesting levels set by the Chief Forester of B.C." that meant there was insufficient timber supply to support the Chasm and 100 Mile House operations.

"We sincerely regret the impact this decision will have on our employees, their families and the affected communities. We will be making efforts to mitigate the effects of this business decision, including opportunities for affected employees to transition to other company locations," Ferris said.

West Fraser announced two weeks ago that production would be curtailed temporarily for a week in June at five B.C. sawmills. The company has mills at Chasm, Williams Lake, 100 Mile, Chetwynd, Quesnel and Fraser Lake. It also has a pulp mill in Hinton, Alta.

In the first three months of 2019 West Fraser had sales of $1.2 billion, while cutting production by 125 million board feet. It also permanently cut B.C. production by 300 million board feet.

The company's first-quarter financial report pointed to B.C. government policy initiatives that would "affect the B.C. forest sector." This included the creation of a Cariboo Protection Plan that could remove timber supply, amendments to the Forest Protection Act that would require companies to get government approval to transfer logging rights and the initiation of the Interior Revitalization process.

Earlier this month, Canfor Corp. revealed it would close its Vavenby sawmill in July, at the cost of 172 jobs. The company plans to sell its logging rights to Interfor Corp, that would process the wood at its sawmill at Adams Lake northeast of Kamloops.

On May 10, Tolko Industries announced the closure of the Quest sawmill in Quesnel, resulting in 150 job losses.

In total, seven B.C. wood-manufacturing facilities have announced a mill or shift closure in the past seven months.

On Monday, the provincial Liberal party called on B.C. Premier John Horgan to do more to protect lumber-mill jobs.

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