By Andru McCracken

On November 7, 2019, Craig Arnold (middle) handed the keys of the shop that housed Syncra Wood Products for 25 years. Representing the building’s new owner, Dunster Community Forest were Larry Stamm (left) and Ray Thiessen (right). The Syncra Wood Products name will remain with Arnold, and the Dunster Community Forest is working towards establishing a new company name and identity. //ANDREA ARNOLD

It’s been an open secret for a few months, but the Goat has confirmed that the Dunster Community Forest has agreed to purchase McBride’s Syncra Mill. Some details have yet to be worked out.

Manager Ray Thiessen said purchasing the mill will have a relatively small impact on the economy of the valley, but that goes hand in hand with what the Dunster Community Forest believes is appropriate economic development.

“It’s a small piece of a puzzle, but I think our philosophy of economic development is incremental,” said Thiessen. “It has some positive economic benefits. Instead of waiting until such time [as having a massive amount of resources] or begging somebody else to do it for us, it seemed prudent to do what we can.”

Chair of the Dunster Community Forest, Larry Stamm, said they are in the process of setting up an operating company.

The goal is to manufacture more local timber to serve the immediate community and the whole Robson Valley.

“This will improve the resiliency in the organization and the whole economy of the valley,” said Stamm. “Sort of following along the whole purpose of what community forests are for.”

Stamm said the operation would satisfy local needs for high quality wood products first.

“Local needs have to be satisfied before we ship manufactured products,” he said. “It’s a basic premise of how the Dunster Community Forest operates.”

Thiessen is explicit that the venture won’t ‘save the valley.’

“I want to be really careful that we’re not putting it out there that we are changing the world overnight. We’re not,” said Thiessen.

“The mill hasn’t been operated at capacity for a few years. We are prudent and cautious. We want to be careful not to make a bunch of big promises we can’t keep,” he said.

“There’s been lots of big talk: ‘Save the valley;’ ‘Up the real estate’ – all this foolishness, we want to avoid this. Everybody is focussed on the silver bullet. Our focus is incremental change.”

Thiessen said he expected the mill to be operational in the spring. In the past Syncra has made hard wood flooring, but the new owners say they hope to add other products to the mix.

The Dunster Community Forest typically has a board of directors of nine people. Currently they have seven directors. Stamm notes that a director recently resigned because they started working for the community forest.

The Dunster Community Forest has an annual allowable cut of 15,000 cubic metres, though they haven’t cut that much for a number of years. They are also in the process of doing an inventory, and Stamm believes that the relatively modest cut will decrease.

Stamm said they hope to echo the European model of forestry.

“They aren’t just shipping logs off to commodity mills. People in Europe make good money in manufacturing,” he said.

“We’re trying to do something better, create a more stable economy for Dunster and the whole valley.”

Stamm said the Dunster Community Forest is sound.

“I expect the project formerly called Syncra will generate a profit on its own and flow back into the community, although we don’t expect Syncra to generate profit for a while; we’ll be supporting it for a few years.”

“We have high quality timber in this valley that has been wasted. We are trying to reduce that waste. I consider making a 2×4 out of some of this stuff a waste.”

He said the organization had looked at starting a mill from scratch, but when Syncra came up for sale, they decided to buy the equipment, inventory and buildings.

“The board agrees it is less risk than doing nothing,” said Stamm.

“We will continue on with what Syncra does and hopefully add some more products.”