Jason Alexander brought his company Cedar Valley Specialty Cuts to Valemount in 2000, and has been steadily employing a small group of people ever since. He says he may have to leave Valemount now, because he can’t get enough fiber. This is especially frustrating, since from the back of his mill on Cedarside Road, Alexander can point to where he knows there is plenty of the fiber he needs – just down the lake.
“Nobody’s been down that west side other than me in 10 years. Lot of big cedar, lot of old cedar, lot of cedar that nobody is after. Carrier doesn’t want it, so why can’t I?”
Shane Bressette, manager of Valemount Community Forest, confirmed that the Community Forest Area has less than three per cent cedar inventory, and the logs are not suitable for Alexander’s mill. Alexander needs 3,000 cubic meters of cedar leading (dying cedar) to keep his mill going. He needs bigger trees, the older, dying ones with a thick shell, logs that generally can’t be used for anything else.
Marc von der Gonna of the McBride Community Forest said he’s also been approached about cedar for Alexander’s mill, but the cedar in McBride’s area is not great for what he needs. Von der Gonna notes however that some loggers have made stocks for Alexander when they can.
Instead, Alexander has been shipping wood in from places like Revelstoke, Terrace, Queen Charlottes, Vancouver Island and Vancouver.
“I am trucking logs from Terrace which is 900 km away. Fifteen kilometers down the lake there is wood that I can’t get,” he says. Shipping it that far is “too expensive,” he says. “It’s foolish.”
“Talk about the environment, and fuel wastage and all the rest of it. It’s crazy.”
Bressette says the Valemount Community Forest has been working with Alexander for three years, trying to see how it can use its volume and position to come up with log supply for the mill. There have been trade proposals with other licensees, verbal and written support on Alexander’s behalf with government and BC Timber Sales, but for various reasons, none of these options have materialized into securing wood for the mill. Bressette adds that the Valemount Community Forest has been pursuing various expansion options for the past four years, but that it is too early to say if they will be successful.
Governments and large businesses may be able to wait, but small businesses cannot always afford to do that.
Alexander explained to me the “Big 3” – three things you need to run a mill operation: fiber, something to do with your waste, and a mill. His mill turns over 90 per cent of each log that comes into his yard into a value-added product – he saws shingles, sends shake blocks to another manufacturer, and produces mulch with the leftovers. If he had a secure source of fiber, he could invest in reman-ing equipment, recovering more from his waste and shipping less unfinished product, keeping more jobs here.
He says he has “unbelievably solid markets” for his product; the only times he has ever shut down since starting up on January 1st 2000 was from lack of wood.
“We’ve done nothing but expand our operation since I’ve been here, and added employees with no license, no secure fiber, just buying on open market.”
What Alexander does need is some security. He knows this community forest doesn’t have much of the cedar he is looking for, but he doesn’t know how to access the fiber himself.
“I’ve tried just about everything in the last year and a half, we’ve been really pounding the pavement, trying to get access to trees.”
He estimates that all the cedar that was burned down the lake in the 1970s before Kinbasket was flooded would have been enough for 10 of his lifetimes.
The Community Forest is seeking to secure more tenure, Alexander said he was told, in which case he would have an increase supply in fibre. “That’s what the hope is,” he said.
He’s asked the Community Forest for an agreement in principal, that if they do get an expansion or a suitable area of cedar that he’ll be able to access it but says he’s been told it’s too early to say.
By: Korie Marshall