Skip to content

On-island wood industry ‘in tough straits’

Forget the blackout, lack of on-island industry cast the darkest shadow over the Haida Gwaii forestry forums.
Representatives from Haida Gwaii's four major forest licensees spoke with Masset residents on April 3.

Forget the blackout, lack of on-island industry cast the darkest shadow over the Haida Gwaii forestry forums last week.

Responding to a province-wide call for increased public engagement, managers from Taan, Husby, BC Timber Sales, and A&A Trading took questions at four public meetings last week. Joining the islands’ four major forestry licensees were representatives from the B.C. government and Council of the Haida Nation.

When the panel got to the Port Clements Community Hall, a rainstorm cut the lights and heat for most of the three-hour meeting.

It didn’t stop the questions.

“We’re in tough straits here,” said John Disney, speaking for the whole north end in Masset the night before.

In Old Massett, where he is economic development officer, Disney said unemployment is at record levels.

While Old Massett Village Council and Abfam have a 50/50 share in the Haida Gwaii Forest Products sawmill, plus a timber agreement with Taan Forest, Disney said the supply isn’t working, nor are other parts of the forestry economy that make for local jobs.

“This logging has been going on here for over 100 years,” he said.

“Port Clements still doesn’t have sidewalks. We have no rec centres. We should have got something out of this locally, we haven’t.”

Jim Abbott oversaw the sawmill when it employed 40 people and had an annual licence for 40,000 cubic metres of timber a small part of the islands’ allowable cut, which has since fallen but still stands at 931,000 cubic metres.

“We had the licence for 10 years. I knew five years ahead where we were going, what kind of logs we were going to get,” he said, speaking at the meeting in Skidegate

“That’s what the mill needs that’s what any manufacturer is going to need.”

Abbott said he wasn’t hopeful that a potential offer of a Haida Gwaii Community Forest would solve the supply issue, given that the model suggested for Haida Gwaii would be managed by BC Timber Sales, which requires open bids to set market pricing for other licensees and U.S. trade negotiations.

“When I see what they’re doing with the community forest, they might as well call it BCTS,” he said.

“It’s not a community forest. The wood will continue to go off-island, there will be no economic value.”

Mark Salzl, authorizations officer for the local Ministry of Forests office and the provincial co-chair on the islands’ Solutions Table, said that with just 8.5 per cent of the cut, the community forest is not the place to look for timber supply.

Salzl called on the major licensees to speak about their efforts to sell timber to local manufacturers.

Jonathan Fane, vice president of Husby Forest Products, said Husby is happy to offer logs for local manufacturers, but the best they can offer is roughly the Lower Mainland market price, minus the cost of barging.

Likewise Jeff Mosher, planning manager at Taan Forest, said that while Taan may be able to bend the cost curve a little, that’s basically the best offer it can make also.

“In order for us to keep going, if we sell to local mills we have to make the logging cost, plus close to the profit we would make on the markets,” he said.

“The mills here are still not willing to pay that price.”

Mosher pointed out that Taan is just seven years old, and in its first years, the company had to make a lot of infrastructure investments on Haida Gwaii, such as bridge building.

“We don’t want to jump in and get a sawmill going without knowing all the facts and figures,” he said, adding that no small sawmill can compete against the giant ‘spaghetti factory’ mills of Houston, B.C. or Vancouver that churn out thousands of board feet of 2 x 4s and 2 x 6s every day.

Taan is treading lightly, he said, but a custom-cut process they are trying out in Vancouver sawmills may offer a niche on international markets and eventually, a chance to build a custom mill here.

“The whole desire is to do forestry in a different way on Haida Gwaii, to find ways to manufacture,” said Colin Richardson, stewardship director and Solutions Table co-chair for the CHN.

“I don’t think we have enough local opportunities to change the world dynamic we’re trying to start from the top and come down,” he said.

“We hope, at the end of the day, to see some real secondary manufacturing here on Haida Gwaii.”