Frankly, I Do Give A Damn: Sawmill Closures

POST DATE Sep 26, 2019

AUTHOR Udo Jahn

BC sawmill closures. What is there to do?

Paper machines facing curtailments. At least 130 jobs lost. Another BC sawmill closure. Mill workers walk off the job for the last time. Sawmill to shut down permanently.

It seems like a day doesn’t go by without seeing an article about the spiralling condition of the sawmill industry. Frankly, it’s hard to read, but even harder to think about the effect these closures and curtailments are having on forestry workers and the towns they live in—towns that grew because of the mill, and the people who’ve made their homes there.

The question on many peoples’ minds is, “what now?”. Without the mill, the people who live in these industry towns are left facing some pretty harsh realities. Possible relocation. Whether or not to switch industries. Whether they can survive financially if they choose to stay. Not to mention the economic conditions. After a mill closes, historically, property values plummet, services relocate, and in extreme circumstances, you get a ghost town. And British Columbia is no stranger to ghost towns.

I can’t help but wonder why these sawmills are closing. The easy, and some would say obvious, answer is that they were uneconomical. They just weren’t making money, and no matter who you are, you need to make money to stay in business. And when you get in this situation, you have two options: make changes or fold. But I’m still shaking my head. Yes, all of these articles are citing causes: increased regulations, higher costs, lack of supply, a volatile market, the mountain pine beetle, wildfires—it goes on and on. It’s all true, and these challenges are only growing, but why did we let it get to this point of seemingly no return?

I guess I’m just upset because it’s the people who are suffering. The people who put their hopes and dreams into these sawmill communities—communities with a very real possibility of becoming ghost towns. All of those bright hopes and dreams are dying. The land workers invested in and had value will have little value. It’s all such a shame. This year's mill closures and production curtailments have affected more than 5,900 workers at 25 mills in 22 communities. Nothing short of a miracle will reopen these mills, and there is very little any of us can do to change what is. But what can we learn from it?

This can happen to any sawmill.

As I write this, there are a number of sawmills out there weathering these uncertain waters wondering if they’re next. In my opinion, the lifeboat we need is decision making. Whatever position we’re in, we need to render conditions favourable and make sure the right decisions are being made in these mills. Decisions that increase productivity will increase cash flow, and hopefully, keep the sawmill above water.

What we can do, we need to; it could make the difference between existing and perishing for some of these small towns. It’s true that a lot of it is out of our hands, but if prevention is the only thing keeping sawmills from extinction, what do you have to lose?

The time is now, or some of you reading this will be living in tomorrow’s ghost town.



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