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Hundreds of jobs lost as Canfor makes cuts in northern B.C.

The move means closing a sawmill in Bear Lake, curtailing production at a pulp mill in Prince George, and suspending plans to build a new mill in Houston

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B.C. forestry company Canfor Corp. said it is closing a sawmill in Bear Lake, curtailing production at a pulp mill in Prince George, and suspending plans to build a new mill in Houston, affecting hundreds of jobs in three Northern B.C. communities.

The permanent closure of the Polar sawmill in Bear Lake, located about 75 km north of Prince George, would affect 180 employees. Operations at the mill have been curtailed since January.

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The company has seen lumber harvests decline dramatically in recent years, with 2023’s harvest 42 per cent lower than the allowable cut, a level not seen since the 1960s, said Canfor CEO Don Kayne.

“While this decline is partly the result of natural disturbances — beetle infestations and wildfire particularly — it is also the result of the cumulative impact of policy changes and increased regulatory complexity,” he said in a statement Thursday.

“These choices and changes have hampered our ability to consistently access enough economic fibre to support our manufacturing facilities and forced the closure or curtailment of many forest sector operations, including our Polar sawmill.”

Another 220 jobs will be lost with the indefinite curtailment of one of two production lines at the Northwood pulp mill in Prince George, which has 450 employees and converts wood chips to pulp and paper products. The line will wind down operations starting in July.

Kevin Edgson, CEO for Canfor subsidiary Canfor Pulp, said closures and curtailments of a number of sawmills have meant there wasn’t enough wood chips to meet operations.

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“Despite exhaustive efforts, including expanding well beyond our traditional operating region, there is simply not enough residual fibre to supply the current production capacity of all our operations,” he said in a statement.

Canfor also said it was suspending plans to build a new sawmill in Houston, eight months after announcing the plan to build a “state-of-the-art” $200-million modernized facility that was meant to replace a mill that was shuttered in January 2023.

The proposed new mill would have employed about 100 fewer people than the mill it was replacing.

At the time, Kayne said the announcement underscores the company’s commitment to Houston and B.C. On Thursday, Kayne said the company was suspending plans for the Houston mill “as we are not confident that an investment of this magnitude can be successful at this time.”

The B.C.-based company reported a $117.1 million loss for the fourth quarter of 2023, ending what it said was a challenging year marked by weak global lumber market conditions.

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