The forest for the trees | Squamish Chief

The forest for the trees

Local forestry stakeholders watching federal, provincial and municipal changes

Much like the branches on a tree rooted to the shores of Howe Sound are affected by the wind, sun and rain, many forces impact the local forest industry. 

From federal initiatives, to the provincial election results, to local land use, Squamish forest companies and organizations are waiting to see what happens and how certain decisions will impact forestry in the Sea to Sky Corridor. 

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In response to the softwood lumber tariffs recently introduced by President Donald Trump’s administration in the U.S., the Canadian federal government announced on June 1 that $867 million will be provided to help lumber producers. The funds would primarily go toward establishing new markets other than the U.S. and enhanced employment insurance benefits for employees of forest companies that have to shut down for a time and lay off workers due to the tariffs.  

In 2004, the last time there was government support due to a softwood lumber dispute, the money was earmarked for the communities impacted.

In Squamish, $900,000 was invested toward building the Squamish Adventure Centre. 

Jeff Fisher, president of local logging company Sqomish Forestry LP, which is majority owned by the Squamish Nation, said while the funds may help some of his workers eventually, if the money is needed, it would be a bad sign for the local industry.  

Sqomish has 24 direct employees and dozens more who work for its contractors, Fisher said.  “The reality is if you have an extended shut down – severe impact for six months or a year – then it doesn’t really make sense to give them unemployment insurance because they need training for a new job because the companies won’t be here then,” he said. “It would be difficult for us to survive a year or two shutdown.” 

Currently, however, unlike companies in B.C.’s interior that depend more heavily upon selling to the U.S., his company and many like it along the coast aren’t feeling the full impact of the tariffs. Part of the reason is local companies are more dependent on selling to China, Japan and Korea than to the U.S.

Sqomish also sells to veneer plants that make plywood and markets red cedar, products that have been traditionally exempted from the tariffs or subjected to a reduced rate tariff. 

Due to the long snowy winter, there has also been a lot less logging locally than normal so currently there’s a bit of a shortage that is keeping his company busy, Fisher explained.  “For us, we are market loggers,” he said. “We don’t make lumber, we just make logs, sell the logs to the various sawmills, plywood plants and pulp mills and some get exported overseas as round [raw] wood, so at this point there is a bit of a shortage.

This upcoming winter or next year, however the effects may be felt locally, he said, so he will be watching developments in the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber dispute closely. 

Eric Andersen, spokesperson for the Squamish and District Forestry Association said the local forest industry is focused more on the post-election, provincial political discussions, which could have a “very great impact.”

Currently, the question of who will ultimately hold the balance of power in the legislature is unclear. While the BC Liberals have the most seats, the newly formed alliance of the BC NDP and the Green Party have promised to topple the Liberals with a non-confidence vote at the first opportunity. 

“If provincial policies were to constrain access to international log markets then less viable timber stands in our area are not harvested and we only accomplish prevention of jobs,” Andersen said. 

Both the NDP and the Green Party campaigned on reducing round log exports in favour of encouraging production to stay in B.C.

“If we can’t sell boards to the Americans then the mills in B.C. don’t need to buy logs so our other market is to export logs and they are trying to do that,” Fisher added. “So it is a potential double whammy.”   

Andersen said the local industry’s chief concern is access to markets for lower grade timber, which is more difficult to sell domestically.

 Andersen noted, however, that potential local benefits from either federal and provincial initiatives and policies “depend to a large degree on the support of the local community,” in particular when it comes to land use. 

Fisher said forestry needs land available that is zoned industrial. 

“You have to have industrial land and access to the ocean,” he said. 

Sqomish Forestry’s dry land sort will have to eventually be moved, Fisher noted, because it is being pushed out by housing developments along Loggers Lane. 

Approximately 180,000 to 200,000 cubic metres of wood is sorted on the property. 

It would be great to also have a new industrial facility move into town, such as one that makes alcohol or fuel out of waste wood or perhaps a new sawmill, but it is tough for those businesses to find land not impacted by noise bylaws in the district, Fisher said. “If someone came to town and wanted to build a new sawmill… it would be very hard to locate that in town now.” 

Andersen added that for Squamish to take advantage of federal initiatives, for example, land needs to be “shovel ready.” 

 “We are making progress on land use planning, but we have a ways to go before we are shovel ready for investment,” he said.

Fisher said while it is great to have more people moving to Squamish, he wonders where they will work without well-paying local jobs like those industries can provide.

Acting Mayor Jason Blackman-Wulff said land north of Brackendale on the Cheekye Fan could be available for industrial use, subject to rezoning. “We, as a council, are looking at what are the long-term options for that type of land, because clearly just the way the market is going [the forest industry] is not going to be in the areas it traditionally was.” 

One of the big gaps for forestry in trying to plan for its future is the lack of a Marine Strategy, Andersen said. 

“Without a clear picture from a Marine Strategy as to what the neighbourhood is to be like in the lower [Mamquam] Blind Channel, industry can’t plan investments with confidence,” Andersen said. “Are there going to be float homes next door? Or high-rise residential towers?”

Completing the Marine Strategy is not in the municipal 2017 budget. 

Blackman-Wulff said the District and council recognize that the waterfront uses of forestry need to be protected.

While completing a Marine Strategy has been the intention of council since the start of its term, it has been delayed due to other high priority projects, such as completing the Official Community Plan, he said. “It is on our radar,” he said. “I see it being in the subsequent budgets – definitely very soon.” 

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