Irving defends forest company's harvesting practices

The co-chief executive officer of the province's largest forestry company said he is disturbed if people think J.D. Irving Ltd. is not co-operating with the provincial government.

Jim Irving says he's "disturbed" if people think J.D. Irving Ltd., the province’s largest forestry company, is not co-operating with the provincial government.

The company continued to remove pulpwood from Crown land after the Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup issued an order not to do so two weeks ago.

Irving, the company’s co-chief executive officer, said as soon as he heard about order, he contacted Northrup to explain how the move would lead to layoffs in southern New Brunswick.

"We clearly didn't want to lay off our folks," said Irving.

He says the minister asked him to do what he could to mitigate job losses.

When the provincial government announced the halt order, the natural resources minister said he would ensure that industry bought private wood first and that softwood pulpwood from Crown land would remain on the harvest site or roadside.

Northrup said in an interview this week he changed his mind about the ban out of concern for jobs.

"Any inference that I would have some special favour from the minister — absolutely not," said Irving.

Ken Hardie, manager of the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners, isn't convinced.

"They are a huge company in a small province, they have 10 mills running, they consume over 40 per cent of all the wood from Crown land and they obviously have some clout."

Disputes private woodlot owners' claims

Irving also takes issue with claims from private woodlot owners that the company is not buying enough wood from them.

"It's dishonest, as far as I'm concerned, to try and paint us as 'Irving, the bad guy' or 'big guy' or 'not looking after people.' As far as I'm concerned, that upsets me, because we're working hard," he said.

He said the company spent $33 million on private wood, the most in the past 22 years.

Irving said his company continues to buy about a $250,000 worth of wood, saw logs and stud mill material from private woodlot owners each week.

"That's about 138 truck loads. So, if we're not buying any wood, somebody's cashing a lot of cheques. The money's gone somewhere," he said.

Irving is buying some wood from private owners, said Hardie. But prices are low and that has to change, he told forestry companies and government representatives at a meeting Thursday in Fredericton.

"If it's a constant reduction of prices, royalty rates and there's no room for the private woodlot wood, which we are already compromised, I mean, we are on a quick trip to the bottom," Hardie said.

It's a very tense time for his 41,000 members, he said.

"What has gone on recently between ourselves and J.D. Irving Limited, the rift is getting worse. There's very little movement."