Current Problems


Carrier Lumber president backs First Nations’ plea to restore local forest policy decision-making

July 3, 2024

‘That one-size-fits-all mantra that flows from the south, it doesn’t work up here in the north’ – Bill Kordyban

Carrier Lumber president Bill Kordyban advocates for return of local forestry policy decision making.Handout photo

NationTalk: Prince George Citizen – Carrier Lumber president Bill Kordyban is among a growing chorus of dissent getting louder in protest over how B.C. forests are being managed by the provincial government.

He’s convinced there’s a better way to support an ailing forest industry left reeling from the impacts of mill closures and job losses.

To do that, Kordyban says the province’s forestry ministry has no choice but to give up a large chunk of its fiefdom.

Right now, according to industry stakeholders, it’s a broken system, with loggers waiting months for permission to go in with their heavy equipment to cut down trees, and Kordyban is not alone when he says there needs to be a change in policy that recognizes how dire the situation has become.

Kordyban attended a meeting last week in Prince George that gathered forest industry leaders, three local mayors and two B.C. First nation chiefs – Dolleen Logan of Lheidli T’enneh and George Lampreau of Simcw – for a discussion that centred around the long delays it takes for foresters to be granted permit approvals from the province that allow commercial harvesting.

“My takeaway from that meeting is more deference has to be given from Victoria to those who want to manage the forest for the greater good, rather than just simply consuming it and leaving it to chance what happens in the forest,” said Kordyban.

“By chance, you can end up with a beautiful ecosystem, untouched, but you’re just as likely, maybe more likely, you’ll end up with a wildfire-killed landscape, or all the trees will die from beetles if you let them sit untouched.”

Kordyban, 63, whose father, Bill Sr., started Carrier lumber in 1951, understands why area first nations feel neglected by government bureaucrats and agrees with their stance that the provincial government needs to give regional interests more of say in what gets done to keep the industry sustainable.

“First Nations have been effectively managing forest industry for many years, of course in a different fashion than we do now, but they lived in the forest, it provided their sustenance, so they were in effect managing it,” said Kordyban. “They want to continue managing the forest, not just sitting idly by. They want to manage it to increase wildlife, they want to lessen the chance of fires and lessen the chance of beetle outbreaks and increase its benefits for the greater good.

“How you do that is you bring the decision-making power back to the local area, you bring it to the first nation, to the community and to the stakeholders in this part of the world. That one-size-fits-all mantra that flows from the south, it doesn’t work up here in the north, and we have example after example of that.

“It’s not a static picture, it changes all the time and we as humans can influence what we want to see out of it,” he said. “But leave those decisions up north with us and leave it to the First Nations to work with us, and us with them and the communities, and you’ll get far better decisions.”

One of the examples he cites is old growth management. In February the province announced it will defer old growth logging on 2.42 million hectares, in addition to 3.7 million hectares of already protected forest.

The Fairy Creek protests in 2020-21 highlighted the need to protect the watershed in that area of southern Vancouver Island and the government agreed to defer logging in the Fairy Creek and Central Walbran areas, later extending that agreement through Feb. 1, 2025. But what works for them doesn’t necessarily work in a colder climate.

Old trees that grow throughout the year in temperate coastal areas like Fairy Creek are much different from old-growth areas in northern B.C., where growth stops during the cold-weather months. There are exceptions, like the giant trees of The Ancient Forest in the Driscoll Range east of Prince George, but vast majority of old growth trees in northern boreal forests are not like that. They do not get as old or last as long as coastal trees.

“In the north, where we live, if you have a 250-year-old tree, that tree is very likely either going to burn in a wildfire, or more likely the beetles will get at it and kill it, so it has a very limited shelf life up here,” said Kordyban.

“When people think of old growth they think about 500-year-old Douglas fir trees on the coast, six or eight feet in diameter, and the Fairy Creek protests effectively was a more southern issue and then it got rolled into the Interior,” he said.

“The First Nations were very upset with Victoria because it was imposed on them, take it or leave it. So we’ve been saddled with old growth recommendations that really should have been developed up here.”

The latest round of mill closures this year that shuttered mills in Fraser Lake, and Bear Lake and took out one of the two pulp lines at Prince George Pulp and Paper which cut hundreds out of jobs from the region, continuing a trend that’s gone on for years. While Canfor expands into the southern U.S., it continues to pull back from its B.C. operations, forcing skilled labourers and tradespeople to leave for other regions or provinces to find work.

Fifteen or 20 years ago, B.C. was one of the lowest producers of forest products in North America. Now, the cost of doing business is among the highest anywhere, and Kordyban blames that squarely on the province.

“A huge amount is due to provincial policy,” he said. “The fact permits aren’t being issued is going to create more artificial shortages for the mills and there may be more shutting down just because there’s no wood flowing to the mills.”

Despite the pine beetle infestation of the early 2000s that wiped an area of B.C. forest as big as New Brunswick and several years of major wildfire destruction, Kordyban says there are still plenty of trees in close proximity to the mills. But not enough of those loads are being sourced locally. Logging trucks continue to roll into the Carrier’s Tabor Mill in Prince George in the BCR Industrial site coming in from as far away as Terrace.

He’s raised the issue many times with ministerial staff and nobody seems willing to budge.

“Some of it seems to fall on deaf ears,” he said. “It’s gotten worse, definitely in the last decade or two. It’s just been a slow devolvement of decision-making to the south.”

Ted Clarke, Prince George Citizen