Logging industry woes continue

  • Jul. 9, 2003 9:00 a.m.

All the timber industry on the islands needs is cutting permits, a favorable market and good weather. So far this summer, the industry’s had good weather.
The two biggest logging companies on the islands, Weyerhauser and Teal-Jones, have both had slow downs but say they are trying to keep people working as much as possible.
“All crown timberlands within the Weyerhaueser Coastal Group have stopped operating for the month of July,” says Ray Lorenzo, unit manager of Weyerhauser’s Juskatla operation. Weyerhauser ordered the complete coastal shut down at the end of June because of poor market conditions.
Here on the islands, Weyerhauser only directly employs an engineering crew, and Mr. Lorenzo says they are working steadily. Employees of Edwards and Associates, the contractors who provide timber to Weyerhauser, are the ones who will feel the shutdown most, and they’ve been struggling since May.
“Initially, the shutdown happened because we ran out of permits to log,” says Stan Schiller, owner of Edwards and Associates. He kept his crews busy building roads while waiting for permits. “Now in the last few weeks, the markets have turned very sour.” Mr. Schiller hopes to have his crews back to work by the first week of August in the Dinan and McClinton Bay areas and then move to Ferguson Bay in September.
“Permits have been a long outstanding issue for a couple of years. Last year, a process developed between the Haida and Weyerhauser. We are not directly involved,” says Mr. Schiller. Last spring Weyerhauser agreed to reduce its cut to 600,000 cubic meters, with 500,000 coming from the McClinton/Ferguson area. “Unfortunately, although I have seen improvement in the process, it’s still not working as well as all parties hoped. Because of this we have a shortfall of cutting permits.”
For Edwards and Associates this makes planning difficult. Because they don’t know the volume of logs they will be allowed to cut, the company can’t create a steady flow, says Mr. Schiller, and this creates instability for workers and the community.
“We are only going to have approximately 350,000 cubic meters. Dinan/Ferguson were supposed to get 500,000 cubic meters,” says Mr. Schiller. “If we would have known that, we would have just tailored the operation to that volume.”
If the company gets back to work, Mr. Schiller hopes to keep working until November, and maybe the early part of December-weather permitting.
Weyerhaueser plans to start up again at the beginning of August, but closer to the end of July, the company will assess market conditions to determine if the operation can resume, says public affairs manager Sarah Goodman. The vast majority of Weyerhaueser timber goes to its coastal sawmills, she says, with the finished products going to the US and Japan. US markets are constrained by the ongoing softwood lumber dispute and oversupply, while the Japanese continue to struggle with a recession, she says.
On Moresby Island, the Teal-Jones group has also had difficulty getting permits from the forest service, says manager Dave Summers. Consequently, the company had to lay off 30 forest workers and six engineers on July 4. If they get the required cutting permits by July 9, the forest workers will return to their jobs July 14. Mr. Summers expects the engineers will be back to work by September.
Mr. Summers says the US tariff and rising Canadian dollar are creating problems for the company, but fortunately most of its sales are in the far east – Japan, Korea and China – where he hopes markets will continue to improve. As long as the company breaks even, it will continue to operate, but the heli-logging operation has been shut down until at least September because it is so costly to run.
Before lumber companies can cut down trees, they must have a timber cutting permit from the Ministry of Forests. Ministry employees check a company’s plans to make sure they conform to legislation and the Forest Practices Code. Timely approval of permits is “an ongoing issue,” says Brian Eccles of the Ministry of Forests. “Some of the proposals the companies have been submitting are very complicated and there is also more cooperation with the Haida now,” says Mr. Eccles. “We take that very seriously. It’s important that we consult everyone.”
“It’s a very encumbered process and it’s time consuming. We’re not trying to hold things up,” says Mr. Eccles. Most of the permits are issued within 30 days, he said, but some are delayed.