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Canfor shuts down operations in Chetwynd and Houston, BC, cutting about 400 jobs

Canfor has announced the permanent closure of its operations in Chetwynd, BC, and an extended closure of its sawmill in Houston, creating further challenges for workers in the forestry industry.

The company said closures of its sawmill and pellet plants in Chetwynd were part of what it calls a restructuring of operations in the province.

The temporary closure of its sawmill in Houston, meanwhile, is part of a restructuring focused on manufacturing.

Although the company did not say how many jobs would be cut, the union representing workers at both the Chetwynd and Houston operations estimated that at least 400 people would be out of a job.

“My phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” said Jeff Bromley, chair of the United Steelworkers Wood Council.

“[There’s] lots of heartache, lots of confusion.”

In Bromley, 120 people work at the Chetwynd sawmill, about 300 kilometers northeast of Prince George, while 280 are employed in Houston, about 300 kilometers west of the same city. Additional jobs will also be cut at the Chetwynd pellet plant.

He noted their remote locations make it unlikely that the people who lose their jobs will be able to stay in their communities.

“It’s not easy to just sell your house and find another job,” he said. “It’s a major, major impact on small communities.”

Dwindling fiber supply

The announcements come two weeks to the day after Canfor announced the loss of 300 jobs as it phases out one of its pulp lines in Prince George.

In all cases, the company blamed dwindling long-term fiber supply for the changes as the amount of accessible timber available for harvest declines.

“We are making these difficult but necessary decisions to create a more sustainable operating footprint in BC,” president Don Kayne said in a written statement.

“Our goal is to match our mill capacity with the economically available fiber for harvest to enhance our ability to compete and to operate throughout the market cycles.”

The reasons behind the reduced supply have been blamed on a number of factors, including fallout from the mountain pine beetle, forest fires and forestry management practices employed by companies focused on short-term profitability over long-term sustainability.

Other companies have been reducing operations as well. Earlier this week, both Tolko Industries and Sinclair Forest Products announced further curtailments at operations throughout the province’s Interior and north, impacting more than 700 employees.

In response, the BC government has made several announcements supporting the forest industry, including a $90-million manufacturing jobs fund, $50 million to access hard-to-reach fiber in fire-damaged regions and a $4.5-million investment to help re-open a Vancouver Island pulp and paper mill.

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