Mary Keith, a J.D. Irving Ltd. vice-president, said the company and other partners are looking at $1 billion worth of investments in the forest sector. (CBC)

J.D. Irving Ltd. and other forest companies are willing to spend $1 billion on mill upgrades and silviculture if the provincial government will guarantee the companies enough long-term access to Crown land, according to an official.

Mary Keith, the vice-president of communications with J.D. Irving, said the Saint John-based company and "other partners" have assembled plans for possible investments in the forest sector, which could add up to $1 billion.

"That amount is not exclusively with our company, although we do represent a significant amount of what will be potentially invested," she said.

Keith said the plan includes upgrades to Irving’s pulp and paper mill in Saint John, upgrades to "a number of sawmills" in various New Brunswick communities and a silviculture investment.

The company’s pulp and paper mill produces 335,000 tonnes of pulp a year and employs 335 people. But the west side facility must be upgraded to stay competitive, according to Keith.

"On a global basis that mill is small and it needs an upgrade," she said.

In 2008, an Irving official said the company had examined the possibility of moving its paper mill, located in east Saint John, to Quebec to take advantage of lower power prices.

‘Investment is required’

These various projects are contingent on the company getting "a longer-term view" of its access to Crown timber, said Keith.

She said long-term access to Crown land is required to give the companies confidence to invest in the province.

"We’ve come to a point where investment is required," Keith said.

"We think it is a good news story in terms of job creation and also in terms of the construction work that will put other contractors and suppliers to work as we undertake these investments, that we can do it with a solid investment and growing the forest and we can do it in balance with what the environmental objectives are."

The New Brunswick government released its 10-year forest plan last year. The 10-year plan is double the normal length of the previous forest management plans.

The annual allowable cut for softwood, such as spruce, fir and jack pine, is 3.27 million cubic metres, which is the same annual allowable cut as in the 2007-2012 management plan.

Meanwhile, the Department of Natural Resources is cutting the annual allowable cut for hardwood to 1.41 million cubic metres from 1.77 million cubic metres in the 2007-2012 plan.

It is not clear what commitments the Irving company wants in addition to the 2012 forestry plan.