British Columbia

Fort Nelson to Canfor: Stop hoarding our forests

With oil and gas jobs gone, Fort Nelson's city council wants forestry to come back but says forestry company Canfor is in the way.

With oil and gas jobs gone, Fort Nelson wants forestry to come back, but says lumber giant is in the way

Fort Nelson is struggling through tough economic times due to the downturn in natural gas commodity prices. (Fort Nelson Chamber of Commerce)

With oil and gas jobs gone, Fort Nelson's city council wants to kick-start its forest industry, but says forestry company Canfor is in its way.

The lumber giant used to have two mills in the community, but shut them down in 2008 — while retaining the rights to harvest most of the timber supply in the area.

Now, city council says Canfor should either start using that licence to create jobs or move out of the way so someone else can.

"The economy is definitely in the doldrums right now," said Mike Gilbert, Fort Nelson's community development officer.

People here are fighters, and when they feel that they have been backed into a corner, they will do what's necessary.- Mike Gilbert

"In previous times in our history, some of the slack was taken up by forestry, and when forestry was on a downward slide the slack was picked up by oil and gas," he said.

"Now we're feeling the full impact."

Gilbert said prior to 2008, up to 1,500 direct and indirect jobs were in the forest industry. Now there is only one family-owned mill, and some jobs tied to shipping raw logs out of the region.

He said other companies have expressed interest in restarting mills locally, with a focus on long-term sustainability.

"The up-and-down ride of one big show, the single big mill is not necessarily the way to go," he said. "We see the opportunity to diversify our economy and stabilize it with sustainable forestry, while at the same time the tenure holder [Canfor] is playing on a much bigger board."

Legal action being considered

Gilbert said the decision to go public was made by mayor and council after spending two years trying to resolve the issue behind the scenes.

Fort Nelson Mayor Bill Streeper says he is considering legal action if the province and Canfor don't free up access to the local timber supply. (Northern Rockies Regional Municipality)

In a release, the municipality describes Canfor's actions as "hoarding" the timber supply, treating it as an asset to be held in reserve rather than a community good.

"The frustration that the community feels is that there is a resource ... and it is being hoarded. And the community sees that as not being in its best interest," Gilbert explained.

In a statement, Mayor Bill Streeper says if B.C.'s forests minister doesn't do something to free up the timber, the council may take legal action.

Gilbert said such action would be a last resort, but the fact that it's even being contemplated is a sign of how serious the situation is.

"Drastic situations call for drastic measures," he said.

"People here are fighters, and when they feel that they have been backed into a corner, they will do what's necessary."

Neither the province nor Canfor have responded to the release.


For more on this story, click on the audio labeled 'Fort Nelson considering legal action to get Canfor to stop hoarding timber supply.' 

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About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.