When Skeena Sawmills closed in 2007, many believed it was just another nail in the coffin for Prince Rupert and Terrace’s forestry industry. For Lax Kw’alaams band manager Wayne Drury, he instead believed it was an opportunity for his community to make a grab for the brass ring — or in this case — a wood ring.
Working in concert with Lax Kw’alaams Mayor Garry Reece, Drury made a longshot bid on Tree Farm Licence 1 (TFL1), which encompasses 2.6 million hectares to the north, east and west of Terrace. Little did they know then the bid would not only change the industry but the community of Lax Kw’alaams itself.
The successful bid was the start of what is now Coast Tsimshian Resources (CTR), a company that creates 110 jobs in the region and puts an estimated $1.2 million per month into the Northwest economy.
“The principals behind CTR had faith in this opportunity. They took a chance and made it work,” said CTR general manager Dave Jackson.
“Wayne Drury and Garry Reece basically put together a harvesting plan, hooked up with a woodlands contractor and started to reanimate the industry. They had to basically start from scratch and create relationships with loggers, with truckers, with environmental permitting entities and so forth … others had been doing it, but not First Nations.
“This is groundbreaking for First Nations. No First Nations had ever taken on anything of this scale.”
Looking to Asia
While mills in the immediate vicinity of TFL1 were closing down, Drury and Reece were looking well beyond the region for customers.
“They started a modest harvesting plan, which I believe is 600,000 cubic metres, with the anticipation that China would become a market for export logs,” said Jackson.
Aside from simply planning to ship logs to China, CTR wasted no time in setting up an office in Beijing to speak directly to customers and market the benefits of Canadian logs. While the office has since moved to Shanghai, CTR now ships logs to Japan and Korea in addition to long-standing customers in China.
Shortly after beginning moving logs abroad, CTR took another step to securing its footing in the Asian marketplace as it partnered with Tidal Coast Terminals and a log broker to purchase a log-debarker for its Prince Rupert log export terminal. It’s something Jackson said is another example of the foresight of the company founders.
“They saw there would be a premium if a log was debarked. There is an implication when you export a raw log that, if it has bark on it, there is a concern around the beetle — not the pine beetle — but there are other destructive insects within bark and other countries didn’t want that going out. CTR looked at that and purchased the debarker down in Prince Rupert,” he said, adding the debarker opened additional markets.
“It was a fundamental element of the early stages of the China marketplace because there is only one port that could fumigate logs … in the early days, CTR thought strategically to add the debarker so that not only could you get more logs on a ship volume and weight-wise, you also could access additional ports.”
Closer to home
Shipping logs to Asia was certainly a sustainable business model, but CTR wanted to make sure the people of the Northwest as a whole also saw benefits from the band’s business endeavours. But the options to create employment were limited, at least they were until ROC Holdings purchased and restarted the shuttered mill on Hwy 16.
“We were trying to find an opportunity for secondary manufacturing and that never really presented itself until Teddy Cui bought Skeena. We had been working with Teddy and Skeena to supply them with wood within the timber profile that makes sense,” said Jackson.
“When they started up, the very first load of logs they got was from CTR and, in fact, it was a Lax Kw’alaams band member driving the truck. That was a fantastic day for Terrace, for the sawmill and for the whole Northwest.”
A community saviour
Coast Tshimshian Resources is creating jobs and benefits across the region, but perhaps the biggest beneficiaries are the people of Lax Kw’alaams.
The community may be hundreds of kilometres from where the trees are felled, but Jackson said the impact of the company on residents cannot be understated.
“This has been a tremendous window of hope for the community of Lax Kw’alaams. Prior to 2004, the community was suffering from a lack of hope and aspiration. They had a lot of teen suicides, a lot of terrible social problems and high unemployment. Once Wayne and Garry developed this robust economic development plan and started to implement it, the very fact that the band could stand up and say ‘we have our own logging company’ gave everyone a sense of hope and optimism and the ability to say ‘we can do it’,” he said.
Success breeds success
Since CTR began operations, the Lax Kw’alaams Band has restarted and upgraded its fish processing plant, which has a payroll of more than $1.5 million through the employment of 225 people in the community. While not directly related, Jackson said he believes this success can also be traced to the success of the timber operations of CTR.
“I don’t think the confidence the Lax Kw’alaams Band has now would have existed without Coast Tsimshian Resources. They just have a different perspective and more of a ‘can-do’ attitude permeates the community,” he said.
Striving for super-utilization
When asked about the future of CTR, Jackson wastes little time in pointing out the creation of a marketable use for every piece of fibre on the land.
“We see every piece of fibre as an asset. Every piece of fibre in the bush has a value and needs to be utilized. If you look back in logging, it has gotten a bad reputation because it is seen as being wasteful. This was perhaps necessary when facilities and marketplaces didn’t exist for these materials … in our future we want to see some kind of, the term I use is super-utilization, of the fibre basket,” he said.
But making use of the maximum amount of harvestable material possible isn’t something CTR plans to take on themselves. To that end, Jackson said partnerships will be key.
“In terms of growth, I see that being in the form of relationships with entities that have specialized benefits that they bring to the relationship … we will grow, but not necessarily by taking on the skill sets that others have,” he said.
One such partnership is one reached with Pinnacle Renewable Resources to construct a wood pellet plant in Terrace. Jackson said the construction of the plant is an example of how CTR plans to ensure the region benefits from industry cooperation.
“Our relationship with Pinnacle will be one where we focus on woodland management and they focus on what they do best, which is producing pellets and selling them. It is the same with Skeena; we will focus on woodland management and they focus on sawmilling,” he explained.
“The industry is too lean and it is too challenging to venture into areas where others already exist. We have to work more cooperatively than be in competition with each other.”
Through the vision of its founders and its willingness to work with industry partners to the benefit of all, Coast Tsimshian Resources is securing a future for forestry in a region that was once a hub for the sector.