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BC forest industry going full-tilt thanks to record-breaking lumber prices

Last Updated Aug 14, 2020 at 12:01 am PDT

Softwood lumber is pictured in Richmond, B.C., Tuesday, April 25, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Finally, some good news for B.C.’s forestry sector. After hundreds of jobs were lost and a number of sawmills shut down in the last few years – lumber prices are on a surge.

“Most of my members are working flat-out which is good because six months ago there were lots of layoffs and downtime. And now they are working six or seven days a week,” says Jeff Bromley, the wood council chair of -the United Steelworkers. “I’m just coming out of Castlegar and was with a union member there. That Interfor mill is talking about putting in an extra shift.”

The U.S. National Association of Home Builders says the price of lumber has reached $600 U.S. per thousand board feet. It blames “insufficient domestic production and tariffs on Canadian sources” for the high prices.

Bromley says it’s the highest price he’s ever seen and he claims even two-by-fours are in short supply.

Mill shutdowns in B.C. have put the squeeze on supply.

“From the United Steelworkers perspective, we’ve lost seven mills that produce various products but many of those products went into the U.S.,” Bromley points out. “And that was over 1,000 of our members that lost their jobs in the Northern Interior, Southern Interior and then one of our mills in the Fraser Valley and there’s no question that there’s less product being produced from the Canadian side.”

Tariffs on lumber exports to the U.S. were set to be reduced this spring but still haven’t been curtailed. They are supposed to be dropped from an average of 20.8 per cent to just over eight per cent in August, but Bromley says that’s been delayed to the fall.

“The first excuse was the outbreak of COVID, but further delays are administrative. Lots of us are doing work at home, so I don’t understand why they can’t manage to reduce those duties and get that paperwork done.”

Meantime, there’s been a surge in lumber demand in the U.S.

“It’s a bit of a strange phenomenon,” notes Bromley, as Americans in COVID lock downs pay more attention to renovations and deck-building. But that’s not all that’s fueling demand.

“The housing market in the U.S. is really strong. Housing starts are annualized at over 1.2 million which is a good number,” explains Bromley, who is all too familiar with the highs and the lows of the industry.

“It’s all positive for our members with lots of lumber trying to feed the demand, but that’s not sustainable, that won’t stay forever. Right now it’s bit of a bitter bittersweet story but a little bit better news for once.”