The Mayor of Clearwater is breathing a sign of relief, following today’s announcement that a tenure swap that will keep the area’s logging sector alive has been approved.
On Friday, B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson the transfer of two licences in the Kamloops Timber Supply Area near Vavenby with a combined allowable annual cut of about 349,000 cubic metres per year.
The timber in those two licences would be surplus to Canfor’s needs, following the permanent closure of its Vavenby sawmill, while Interfor could use the timber for its Adam’s Lake sawmill.
In the past, such tenure sales or transfers occurred with little interference from the provincial government. But under the NDP government’s new Bill 22, such transfers or sales must now be subject to community and First Nations input and feedback, and approved by the minister.
The new rules were intended to address the concentration of tenure in the hands of just a few of the biggest players in B.C.
"Under the previous government, companies could trade tenure like they were hockey cards, and the people impacted were often the last to find out - even when it resulted in the loss of hundreds of jobs," Donaldson said in a press release.
"Our government brought in changes so that the needs of Indigenous Nations, workers and communities would have to be considered before a transfer would be approved. The official Opposition voted against those changes. That says a lot about where their priorities lie, which isn't with rural communities in B.C."
Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell has been critical of the provincial government for taking so long to make a decision, and was “incredibly relieved” to hear the news Friday that the swap has been approved.
Roughly 170 workers in the area lost their jobs when Canfor permanently shut down its Vavenby sawmill. Blackwell estimates 300 to 400 people in his area are employed in logging and the service sector that serves the industry. He feared many of those jobs would also be lost, if the swap were not approved.
But not only has the tenure swap been approved, Clearwater will also get $850,000 in benefits from it.
Conditions attached to the swap obliges Canfor to provide $500,000 to the Wells Gray Community Forest. Another $200,000 will go to the District of Clearwater for a legacy fund, and $150,000 to the United Way.
“In the long-run, I think we’ll look back at this and go, ‘this was much better than the old system,” Blackwell said.
Jim Girvan, a forestry consultant, said the transfer “makes a lot of sense,” and will help the Adams Lake mill remain viable.
“The Adams Lake mill will have sufficient volume to remain competitive and, I trust, local contractors in the Vavenby area will still be able to harvest the wood,” he said.
“We are pleased that Premier (John) Horgan and Minister Donaldson have approved the transfer of forest tenure associated with the Vavenby mill to Interfor,” Canfor CEO Don Kayne said in a press release.
“With strong leadership from Premier Horgan, today’s decision demonstrates the BC government’s support of the Interior forest sector as it continues the difficult process of reducing production capacity to align with the available timber supply.”
Kayne said Canfor is now working to sell its land in Vavenby where the former sawmill operated. The $60-million deal between Canfor and Interfor is expected to be closed by the end of March.