Sawmills in Quesnel and Houston are to be closed next year as their owners trade timber cutting rights to maintain competing operations in the two B.C. Interior communities affected by mountain pine beetle infestation.
Canfor Corp. announced it will close its Quesnel mill in March 2014, transferring its forest licence for the region to West Fraser to supply logs to its recently rebuilt Quesnel mill. West Fraser announced it will close its Houston mill next year, trading part of its cutting rights to Canfor to supply its Houston operation.
West Fraser CEO Ted Seraphim said in a statement its Houston closure will affect 225 employees. The company plans "major rebuilds" of its sawmills in 100 Mile House and Smithers, and is proceeding with a bioenergy projects at its Fraser Lake and Chetwynd operations.
"Our first priority is to explore opportunities to transition Houston employees to one of our other operations, and we will provide assistance in finding new employment," Seraphim said.
Canfor CEO Don Kayne said the 209 employees at its Quesnel mill will be offered positions elsewhere in the company.
"The additional fibre we have been able to secure in the exchange agreement with West Fraser enhances the fibre requirements for our Houston facility," Kayne said.
Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad, who chaired a review of Interior timber supplies in the wake of last year's explosion and fire at Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake, said he expected the decision to reduce mill capacity in the Quesnel region.
"The surprise is the closure of the Houston mill, from my perspective," Rustad said. "I think West Fraser has always been looking at how they want to move the wood between the three mills, but when we looked at the opportunities in the Houston area on the timber supply component, there was a significant amount of wood in that area, and our hope was it would continue to support two mills."
Rustad said the decision last December to provide timber for Oregon-based Hampton Affiliates to rebuild its Burns Lake sawmill "had only very minimal impact" on supply for the other mills in the region.
NDP forests critic Norm Macdonald said the government had warnings from the Forest Practices Board, the auditor general and industry leaders that the beetle infestation would lead to mill closures.
“The creation of a jobs protection commissioner could provide a consistent and systematic economic transition for these kinds of forestry-dependent communities,” Macdonald said.
Forests Minister Steve Thomson was scheduled to return Friday from a lumber trade mission in Japan and China, along with industry executives from across the province.