J.D. Irving Ltd. is using a mill closure in western New Brunswick to apply pressure on the Progressive Conservative government to give it greater access to Crown land, according to a private woodlot owner.
The province’s largest forest company announced this week that it is closing its mill in Deersdale, near Juniper, which will cost 73 people their jobs on Oct. 28.
The company is blaming the indefinite closure on uncertainty over access to wood supply from private and Crown land.
However, Dave Palmer, the general manager of the York-Sunbury-Charlotte Forest Products Marketing Board, said the company is using the closure as a bargaining tactic.
"I think the timing of the closure, it puts additional pressure on the government to give the mill more wood," Palmer said.
"This closure, I believe, is simply part of a larger pattern of consolidation."
The forest industry has been putting pressure on politicians for months in the lead up to the province’s release of its next five-year forest management plan, which sets the annual allowable cut for forest companies.
The Department of Natural Resources is expected to release its annual allowable cut decision early next year. The department bases its decision on a computer modelling system and other projections of whether industrial cutting will leave enough wood for the province's forests to keep regenerating themselves.
Politicians tabled petitions in the legislative assembly in June from mill workers concerned about the future of their jobs if the annual allowable cut is reduced.
Environmentalists say the annual allowable cut should be reduced because the forest has not been able to regenerate itself at the rate forest companies have been harvesting.
Private woodlot owners see the amount a company can cut on Crown land as direct competition to their businesses.
"Availability of Crown land has had a direct effect on the private woodlot sector. They essentially are our competitor," Palmer said.