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Opinion: West Fraser wins, Fraser Lake loses

Since when are we obligated to leave our public timber rights in the hands of a delinquent and absentee corporation?
Fraser Lake Sawmill opened in 1977 of the shore of Fraser Lake, 158 km west of Prince George.

West Fraser earned $9.5 billion in gross profits from 2021-2023.

Yet the moment they couldn’t squeeze any more profit out of Fraser Lake, having liquidated the local forests, they kicked the town to the ground.

It’s happened time and time again in this province.  From the late 90s, we’ve lost nearly half our forestry workforce while the logging ramped up. Communities were gutted from corner to corner of this province along with our forests and wildlife.  The shareholders earned billions off the chaos.

I have first-hand experience, of sorts.

When Clear Lake Sawmills shut down in 2011, I hadn’t worked there for a decade, but it still hit hard.  There was a community there, what we called “camp,”a trailer park with somewhere between 100 and 200 residents, which had existed for a couple generations.  I spent a good part of my childhood running around there.  We had a run-down trailer there where I stayed when I worked the night shift.  Camp wasn’t my home, but for dozens of families and people born and raised there, it was.  When Clear Lake shut down, that vibrant and tight community was forced to disperse.

It was a pattern too many communities have followed.

And it should never have been allowed to happen.

If you look at the history of forestry in this province, we granted timber harvesting rights, called tenures, in exchange for social goods.  That included development, manufacturing capacity, and community growth. 

I wrote on here before about the age-old social contract: logs for jobs.

So when a corporation bails on their end of the bargain, when a community loses a big slice of property tax revenue and the economic engine that sustained it, since when are we obligated to leave our public timber rights in the hands of a delinquent and absentee corporation?

Worse, these corporations think they can shut down the mills and then sell the public tenures!  

I think the vast majority of the public agrees that when a mill no longer exists those associated timber harvesting rights should revert back to the public’s hands.  After all, every last cent of “improvements” to the tenure - the roads, the treeplanting, the spraying, all of that was paid for by the public, not the corporations.   

The last thing we should do is reward these corporations for mismanagement and greed, like what BC Conservatives leader John Rustad has been arguing.

He’s thinks we should make it cheaper for companies as they strip mine the forests bare.  Those billion dollar profits weren’t enough, I guess.

Sadly, the NDP and the BC United, cut from the same corporate-captured cloth, probably think the same thing.

But I think these big corporations have shown their true colours. They have shown no commitment to our communities or our industry let alone our forests. 

I hear about how these companies need guarantees to get more “investment” but nobody talks about all the “divestment,” the gutting of our natural capital, the elimination of our sawmilling infrastructure, the planers and head rigs that were sold and scrapped, the covenants on old mill sites that prevent anyone else from operating a sawmill on places like Clear Lake. 

If our forest industry is to have any future, it won’t be in the corrupt, anti-community, neoliberal model we currently have where the only thing that matters is megacorp profit for the global ownership class.

After all, they don’t own our forests.

James Steidle is a Prince George writer.