Bill Fulk is one of hundreds of workers at Surrey-based Teal-Jones Group whose jobs are at risk, following logging closures.
Teal-Jones Group reduced its logging on the B.C. coast in May and has now shut down the remainder, including harvest operations in the Fraser Valley and at Honeymoon Bay on Vancouver Island. Roughly 500 employees’ jobs are at risk in the coming months.
“We’re not shutting down the mills right now, but the problem is we have a wood supply for so long, and it’s supposedly eight weeks. Without us logging our own TFL (tree farm licences), we don’t have the log supply to continue to keep us going,” said Fulk, who has worked for the company since 1983.
But Fulk estimates it will be less than eight weeks.
“People are nervous here. People are worried,” he said. “A lot of people here are like me and they’ve been here for years and years, and they don’t know any other job, They just know the wood industry and the wood industry, it built B.C.”
Fulk said the wood industry is getting “smaller and smaller,” with mills shutting down in different communities.
“There’s going to be ghost towns because it’s hard to find an employee to come to the wood industry because people are seeing that it’s going down and down and down,” said Fulk, adding that it’s becoming very difficult to find employees “that trust that the wood industry will continue on.”
As for the future, Fulk said he doesn’t have a plan “as of yet.”
“I’m a little nervous myself. I’ve got five years to go to retirement, so it’s scary what’s happening,” he said. “People, when they’re stressed out about this, they’re not focused on the task at hand. People’s minds go a little fast and it’s very difficult.”
Gerrie Kotze, vice-president and chief financial officer at Teal-Jones, told the Now-Leader that about 300 contractors on Vancouver Island and in the Fraser Valley lost their jobs, “effective immediately.”
He said Teal-Jones has two lumber mills and a shake-and-shingle mill along the Fraser River in Surrey, where the 500 people are employed.
“This creates a very real risk of curtailment,” Kotze said.
Teal-Jones, Kotze said, is not the only company shutting down.
“It’s also important to understand that there are many companies partially curtailing or completely curtailing their logging operations on the coast, so we fully expect curtailments through the fall and winter of this year,” said Kotze, adding he “can’t estimate exactly when and how much, but we do expect curtailments.”
The company says continued low lumber prices and high costs for B.C. logs has forced the move.
In a press release from the BC Liberal Caucus, Surrey-White Rock MLA Tracy Redies said Tuesday’s announcement “is just the latest in a series of closures and curtailments that are hitting closer and closer to home for Surrey residents.”
It’s the latest in a series of mill closures and curtailments across the province, with Interior lumber operations dealing with reduced cut in the aftermath of beetle epidemics and fires. On the coast, Teal-Jones and other operators say provincial stumpage remains high after lumber prices fell dramatically since the beginning of 2019.
“Current high stumpage rates remain high relative to lumber prices, and harvesting costs have been adversely impacted by new regulations to bring out more residual waste fibre,” said Kotze. “These negative factors have made it impossible for the company to continue its forest licences economically.”
Teal-Jones’ announcement comes a day after West Fraser Timber said it is curtailing operations at all five of its B.C. operations, effective Sept. 16. They include plywood and saw mills at Williams Lake and Quesnel, and mills in 100 Mile House, Fraser Lake and Chetwynd.
With files from Tom Fletcher