A group of local forest companies say their economic viability is threatened as it becomes harder and harder to find enough wood to operate their mills.
The Interior Lumber Manufacturers Association is hoping for a high-level meeting with the provincial government to press its call for a timber supply review in the Kootenays.
“If you go back 15 years all the mills were running with two or three shifts. Now fewer mills are running, and most of us are on one shift,” said Ken Kalesnikoff of Kalesnikoff Lumber in Thrums. “Today it’s a very competitive market and there’s less and less timber available to us.”
Speaking to the Regional District of Central Kootenay board last week, the association presented data showing the annual sawlog harvest in this region declined from 2005 to 2009 as US housing markets fell, then began to rebound last year.
However, supply is expected to drop from 5.6 million cubic meters to 4.9 cubic meters in the next decade. Sawmill consumption, meanwhile, fell from 5.5 million cubic meters in 2005 to 3.1 million cubic meters in 2009 resulting in closures and production cuts.
Demand is expected to remain steady for the next several years at 6.4 million cubic meters, assuming markets stay strong and mills run at capacity. The net result is a log supply shortfall of 1.5 million cubic meters.
“We believe it’s because of restrictions on the land base,” Kalesnikoff said. “We need an area we can work in and farm the land, but those areas are being taken away. It’s becoming very hard to deal with.
“I think we need to revisit plans that are in place, look at them as a society and decide are the restrictions necessary? Are they balanced?”
Kalesnikoff added the remaining land tends to be nearer communities, often resulting in conflict. “We’re forced to harvest in areas allocated to us, which are generally closer to people’s watersheds and homes. That’s really putting us in a difficult situation. We try really hard to work with people, but we’re never going to satisfy everybody.”
The association’s president, Jim Hackett, said they aren’t suggesting that increasing available wood volumes should come at the environment’s expense: “It’s about sustainability. You’ve heard of the three legs of the stool: economic, social, and environmental. For us, the economic leg is starting to crumble.”
“We believe the inventory of mature fibre is here,” added Mark Semeniuk of Fruitvale’s Atco Lumber. “It’s just the imbalance that has been created over a number of years that doesn’t allow us to access it.”
In response to the presentation, RDCK directors resolved to schedule a meeting with the premier and forests minister at the Union of BC Municipalities convention this fall and request a “comprehensive review” of the Kootenay timber supply. The resolution states the goal is to increase the annual allowable cut or hold it steady “while maintaining important environmental services.”
“I think it set everybody back that these guys are in dire straits,” said chair John Kettle. “They’re not crying wolf. They’re part of the communities and if they go away, what do we have left for jobs? I think [the presentation] had a huge impact and they’re going to get a lot of support from us.”
Nelson mayor John Dooley called the presentation “an eye-opener.”
“We’re hearing a group of local businesspeople who want to be proactive in finding solutions to some of their challenges. I think it’s important for us to also be proactive.”
Pointing to oft-heard concerns about slope stability in logged watersheds, rural Nelson director Ron Mickel told the association trust and transparency are key: “If you get public trust, there will be more timber available.”
The Interior Lumber Manufacturers Association has 14 members, of whom 10 operate in the Kootenays. In addition to Kalesnikoff Lumber and Atco, they include Zellstoff Celgar in Castlegar, Interfor in Castlegar and Grand Forks, Wynndel Box and Lumber, J.H. Huscroft in Creston, and Porcupine Wood Products of Salmo, plus several East Kootenay companies.
Fifth generation for Kalesnikoff family
Ken Kalesnikoff has a new reason to be concerned about the future of the forest industry in the Kootenays.
Shortly before speaking to the Regional District of Central Kootenay last week, his first grandchild was born — perhaps further extending a family business already in its fourth generation.
Kalesnikoff Lumber was founded in 1939 by brothers Koozma, Sam, and Peter Kalesnikoff with little more than some axes, saws, and horses. The business passed to Peter’s son, Pete Jr., and then to Pete’s son Ken, whose children are in turn actively involved today.
“You’ll find mills like ours and other family mills in the area are into sustainability,” Kalesnikoff says. “We’re hoping to be here for a long time, so we want timber to be here for our future generations, no different than others who live here. What can we do to make sure it’s available in a way that balances everybody’s needs?”