WFP's Saanich Forestry Centre marks half-century of growth

Western Forest Products is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its Saanich Forestry Centre this week on a high note.

The Island-based company’s most recent financial results hit the highest quarterly revenue in seven years at $286 million. Western is showing increases in lumber production and sales, and has a new, five-year labour accord with the United Steelworkers union.

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Western’s chief executive Don Demens said credit for the success is down to his team.

“Throughout the company, they are committed to delivering on our mission of being a globally competitive business,” Demens said at the Saanich Forestry Centre, where the roots of Western’s seedlings take hold.

Demens said labour peace is a big part of the success.

“I hope there has been a realization that we are in this together and we have to work together,” he said. “We all benefit from being globally competitive and we all benefit from developing a sustainable business here on the coast.”

Competitive, stable and sustainable are the company’s key words, and Demens believes they translate into secure jobs for employees, secure returns for shareholders and steady employment for Island communities.

It has helped in terms of financial results, though Demens said recovering markets and improved operating performance have played big roles.

“The underlying view that markets are getting better over time remains, but markets have become a little choppy, especially in China and Japan, and we are suffering from an operations perspective because of the hot, dry weather,” he said.

Hot weather means logging crews are not at work as their operations risk starting forest fires.

“But long-term, it is still positive, and we look forward to the benefits of our capital investments,” Demens said.

The company has invested about $165 million over the last three years to improve manufacturing facilities. There is more to come, with plans to continue modernizing and streamlining operations.

Western operates sawmills at Nanaimo, Duke Point, Cowichan Bay, Saltair, Ladysmith, Chemainus and two in Port Alberni. It also has two remanufacturing plants in Chemainus.

The Saanich Forestry Centre operation, established in 1964, is the start of everything Western does.

The facility on East Saanich Road features seed orchards and a forest-seedling nursery; it produces 6.6 million seeds and 3.3 million seedlings annually.

The seeds are used to grow Douglas fir, western red cedar, western hemlock, yellow cypress and Sitka spruce.

The seedlings are used in Western’s operations around the coast. Western uses about nine million seedlings a year, but still buys six million from other producers.

“For the company, this represents our commitment to sustainable forest management on the coast,” said Demens. “We are the only company with a seed orchard nursery as well as timberlands, harvest activities and manufacturing — the only one that takes it from seed right through to manufactured product.”

Provincial Forests Minister Steve Thomson, on hand for the 50th anniversary of the facility, singled out Western’s commitment to the provincial forest genetics program — assisting provincial scientists with tree breeding and long-term field trials with select trees — as proof of its commitment to sustainability.

According to the ministry, Western grew almost half of the 15 million trees planted on Crown land in the coastal region last year.

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