Canfor Announces Shutdown of Polar Sawmill Amidst Declining Timber Availability

Canfor Corporation has announced the permanent closure of its Polar sawmill in Bear Lake, BC, and the suspension of its planned reinvestment in Houston, BC. This decision is attributed to the persistent shortage of economically available timber and challenging operating conditions, significantly affecting local employment and economic activities in northern British Columbia.

The Polar sawmill, which once had a production capacity of about 300 million board feet annually, has been curtailed since January 2024 and will now cease operations entirely, impacting around 180 employees. Additionally, the suspension of a $200 million investment in a new mill in Houston affects not only the direct creation of 200 new jobs but also stalls potential economic revitalization in the area. These closures add to the broader context of job losses in the region, with over 490 jobs lost from previous mill closures in Houston and Chetwynd.

President and CEO Don Kayne cited a significant decline in the actual harvest levels of timber—42 percent lower than the allowable cut in 2023, a disparity not seen since the 1960s—as a primary reason for these closures. Natural disturbances like beetle infestations and wildfires, compounded by policy changes and increased regulatory complexity, have further strained the company’s ability to access necessary resources. Kayne emphasized the severe impact of these closures on employees, First Nations partners, and the broader community, pledging to work with union partners to develop transition plans that include severance provisions and other support measures.

The closures have been met with disappointment and concern from local workers and government officials. Jonathan Blacker, president of Unifor Local 603, expressed the distress and uncertainty felt by employees at the Northwood facility, which also faces curtailment challenges. BC Minister of Forests, Bruce Ralston, voiced his disappointment and reassured that the provincial government would support affected workers and communities, highlighting the ongoing efforts to stabilize the sector amid these challenging cycles.

The permanent closure of Canfor’s Polar sawmill and the halted investment in Houston mark significant economic and social turning points for northern BC. These decisions underscore the complex interplay between natural resource availability, regulatory frameworks, and economic viability in the forestry sector. Moving forward, it is imperative for industry stakeholders and government bodies to collaborate on sustainable practices and policies that balance economic needs with environmental and social responsibilities.

 

 

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