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Small Sawmills Persevere While the Majors Close: Evaluating Resilience and Desirable Timber Allocation in British Columbia, Canada

Evelyn W Pinkerton, School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University
Jordan Benner, School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University


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We compared the resilience to economic shocks—such as the downturn of the U.S. housing market—of commodity sawmills, which tend to be large, and value-added specialty sawmills, which tend to be small or medium in size, that are located in one region of the province of British Columbia, Canada, as measured by their average days in operation over the last decade and during the 2007–2009 recession. Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures, we then examined three behavioral characteristics contributing to their different degrees of resilience: flexibility, diversity, and orientation to place. We found that the specialty mills had greater resilience over the decade because they (a) contributed more jobs per volume of wood consumed and produced, (b) had greater flexibility to operate further below their capacity, (c) produced more diverse primary and secondary (value-added) wood products, (d) targeted more diverse markets, and (e) did more log sorting and trading in logs of different species with other specialty mills and with local commodity mills, with whom they acted as a resilient cluster. Although all these activities resulted in more logs flowing toward their highest value use, we found that the specialty mills lacked a secure and adequate timber supply, while the major timber tenures held by the commodity mills went largely unused during the downturn. This finding suggests that, in addition to contributing to resilience within the forest products sector, more access to timber tenure by the specialty mills, or having a greater portion of timber on the open market, would result in more value being produced from publicly owned timber.

Key words

British Columbia, Canada; commodity sawmills; resilience of social-ecological systems; specialty sawmills; timber supply; value-added wood products

Copyright © 2013 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087