More than 800 B.C. forestry workers are slated to lose their jobs by the end of January, and some say the mountain pine beetle is to blame.
In the northern Cariboo community of Quesnel, about 180 Canfor employees will be laid off Jan. 15 when the company curtails production at its sawmill. Another 120 truckers and loggers who serve the mill will be out of work as a result.
In Kitimat, on the North Coast, about 500 mill workers will lose their jobs Jan. 31 when the Eurocan paper mill shuts its doors.
While both companies blame the recession and the rising Canadian dollar for the decline in forestry, some say the mountain pine beetle is also taking a toll.
Mary Anne Arcand, who speaks for the Central Interior Logging Association, said lumber towns surrounded by green trees are faring better than those surrounded by beetle-killed forest.
"It's devastating," she said. "A significant part of it is that [Quesnel is] in the mountain pine beetle [range] and, slowly but surely, that fibre is becoming less useful."
Union leader Frank Everitt agrees. "It's got a difficult fibre basket to work with. It makes it difficult."
Mary Sjostrom, Quesnel's mayor, said the layoff announcement was a shock.
"Most certainly, it came as a surprise," she said. "Definitely, it's going to be a tough year for us."
The pine beetle infestation has ravaged an estimated 25 per cent of B.C.'s pine trees, turning vast swaths of once-green forests into a rusty brown.
Sjostrom said the pine beetle is threatening forestry-dependent communities like Quesnel.
"Absolutely, [it's having] a great impact, working with all dead wood. We are in the heart of beetle country," she said.
Arcand said mill jobs will likely migrate to towns with healthier, greener forests.
She said that means continuing hard times for lumber towns like Quesnel, Williams Lake, Burns Lake and the Chilcotin.