Aspen Planers has temporarily shut down their Merritt operations, closing two work sites in the Nicola Valley due to a lack of steady log supply. The closure is currently planned to last three weeks, but executives with Aspen Planers say it will ultimately be government approval of cutting permits and market conditions that determine the mill’s reopening date.
Approximately 150 employees of Aspen Planers, owned by locally founded but Surrey-based company AP Group, are affected by the shutdowns. Along with these employees, several contractors and logging truck drivers are out of work due to Aspen’s closure. The issue at hand, according to AP Group: a lack of logs. Despite the number of logs that remain sitting at Aspen Planer’s sawmill, logistical issues around supply and finishing abilities mean the mill can’t operate.
“The issue, in terms of the reason behind the three week closure, is just simply because we have a lack of logs,” said Bruce Rose, executive vice president with AP Group.
“Our log inventory has gone down to such a low level that it’s difficult to run our sawmill economically, efficiently, and effectively. We’ve got into a situation where we’ve run out of logs because we have not had any cutting permits approved by the government, and we have a large backlog of cutting permits that are not approved.”
British Columbia’s Forest & Range Practices Act, which regulates the cutting of trees on Crown land, sets out the process for obtaining permits and permissions in regards to provincial forestry practices. The provincial government also sets an Allowable Annual Cut (AAC) for areas across the province, which determines the number of metres cubed of timber may be cut in the region per year. The AAC for Merritt’s forestry area is 1,200,000 m³, and those looking to harvest from that set amount must apply for cutting permits before falling trees.
Rose added that AP Group’s main frustration is the “unnecessarily complicated and opaque” process for obtaining a cutting permit, which he said stems from the government addressing outside pressures from environmental organizations and other groups. He believes these processes can be improved while remaining climate friendly and continuing to advance reconciliation with Indigenous communities. AP Group, along with their United Steelworkers represented employees, are engaged in discussions with the province on this issue.
“The employees are obviously deeply disappointed and frustrated with this situation,” added Rose.
“We can’t get on the timber harvesting land base, therefore we can’t operate and therefore can’t provide jobs. It has a direct and immediate effect on the community, and people’s livelihoods.”
A small number of Aspen workers accepted the company’s offer to relocate to other nearby operations, but most remain laid off and reliant on Employment Insurance (EI) and other benefits. These workers will return to work when fibre supply, market conditions, and cutting permits allow. Rose is hopeful this will be early in the New Year.