By George Fullerton
The first directors’ meeting of the Newfoundland and Labrador Forest Industry Association (NLFIA) was held earlier this year, and the fledgling organization has a number of issues that it will soon be tackling, such as fibre utilization and energy costs.
NLFIA Executive Director Bill Dawson explained that the organization will provide a common voice for the membership, on issues impacting the forest and forest industry of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The four members of the organization, cumulatively, process about 90 per cent of the wood fibre currently harvested in NL. It represents the major wood consuming mills in the province: Cottles Island Lumber, Sexton Lumber, Corner Brook Pulp and Paper and Burton’s Cove Lumber and Logging.
Dawson was formerly employed with the provincial forestry department, in the Innovation Centre, which focused on seeking opportunities to grow the forest industry through innovative forest fibre utilization and value-added manufacturing.
Dawson indicated that the new NLFIA organization will focus its efforts on working on common issues the membership deals with, including strategies to rationalize and streamline the management of the forest resource.
In an interview, Dawson said that the provincial government has been very supportive of the efforts to organize the major industry players and was looking forward to the industry communicating with one common voice, rather than a number of individual voices being presented, with individual perspectives on forestry related issues.
Dawson related that there is no shortage of common issues among the membership, and that they wish to work with the government to advance the forest industry and support the provincial economy. Forest management planning, transportation, rationalizing forest utilization, controlling energy costs, silviculture, value-added manufacturing, export and trade challenges top their list of issues to manage.
Dawson said government and industry need to look at every opportunity to control fibre costs. He explained that the organization recognizes the necessity to increase efficiencies, and sees the need to concentrate on the logistics of harvesting and forest products transportation. Adopting the most up to date technologies is critical for the viability of the industry.
“As an industry, we need to look critically at trucking, as an example,” he says. “We need to consider that there may be opportunities for off-road trucking, and establishing highway transport corridors for forest products.” He added that the organization would look toward co-operating with government to study and test different truck configurations, including B-Train and quads, and where they are deployed, as well as looking for efficiencies and opportunities in regards to seasonal weight restriction tolerances.
The NLFIA is also interested in exploring opportunities that wood concentration yards might provide the forest industry, through rationalizing transport but also in concentrating under-utilized forest species and possibly creating opportunity for new fibre-utilizing businesses.
Dawson confirmed that the association is deeply committed to supporting the provincial government’s efforts to maintain substantive and comprehensive Forest Management Agreements with a long term outlook, which will sustain the forest resource.
Controlling energy costs is vitally important for the industry. Dawson said his membership is deeply concerned by speculation that Newfoundland and Labrador may see electric power costs rise from the current $.11 per kilowatt hour to $.22, in an effort to address cost overruns on the Muskrat Falls hydro power project. He pointed out that it is important that the forest industry maintains the option to develop cogen projects to address energy costs.
The NLFIA is interested in the former Abitibi-controlled forest resource that supplied the Grand Falls paper mill, and “how to best utilize that forest resource”.
Dawson pointed out that while the association has started out with four members, they may grow from there. In the future there may be an opportunity to invite other players in the sector to join.
“We want to grow and expand the forest industry in our province, and the association is not necessarily exclusive to its founding members,” said Dawson. He added that for the present, the relatively new group is focused on “learning to walk before we run, and making sure our shoes are tied, so that we don’t trip up as we get going.”
A good deal of their recent efforts has been dedicated to organizational structure and formalizing bylaws.
Fred Osmond, along with his wife Zeta, are owners and managers of Burton’s Cove Logging and Lumber sawmill in Hampden, NL. Osmond feels that the forestry association will be a positive thing for their family-operated mill, and for others in the forest industry.
Osmond said that having forest industry issues brought to government with a single voice will be much more effective than four separate voices representing individual needs.
He said it was difficult to dedicate an employee to specifically represent his company on important issues. “It is especially hard for small companies, similar to ours,” he said.
Their mill relies very much on “hands-on managing”, and it has been hard for the Osmonds to dedicate time away from the operation to make representation to government officials.
“Even when we see an opportunity for a day away from our operation, it is not always a day that the particular officials are available for meetings,” said Osmond. “Having an association representative dedicated to voicing our common issues to government makes a lot of sense.”
The move to forming the association began in the summer of 2017, when Bill Dawson visited the Osmond mill and sat down and discussed the potential for forming a forest industry association. Osmond explained that he had a positive response to the initial proposal, and at subsequent meetings with other potential members, they collaborated on the idea to form the NLFIA.
One of the concerns was the continued availability of fibre from the former Abitibi forest resource in central Newfoundland. Burton’s Cove has traditionally relied on that resource for part of their log supply.
“Since the Abitibi mill in Grand Falls closed, the government has been looking for a new industry to set up in the region to utilize that fibre,” he explained. “We rely on that resource for part of our supply, as do other mills. So we are very interested in who might get access to the resource and how our allocation would fit in with new industries. It seems we only hear about the proposals after they come out in the media—but we should be part of the discussions long before it is in the public domain.
“It’s critical for our operation, that we have the assurance that we will continue to have access to our traditional wood allocation,” said Osmond.
Osmond went on to point out that if the province wants to see the economic activity involving fibre-using industries expanded, they will be relied upon to provide increased fibre allocations to those industries.
Fibre exchange between mills has historically assured efficient utilization of harvested trees, with sawlogs landing at sawmills and chips from their processing delivered to the pulp mill. Osmond contends that the association will enhance negotiations and see those contracts develop and operate more efficiently.
Osmond said the decision to locate the NLFIA office in Corner Brook is important since the provincial government’s Forestry Department offices are located there, as well. The location allows the NLFIA executive director to effectively meet and communicate with decision makers in the department.
Members of the association are concerned with many issues in addition to fibre access. Osmond reinforced the need for efforts to make trucking more efficient, and controlling energy costs.
The suggestion that electrical power rates in the province may be increased substantively is a major concern for him.
“Doubling power rates would be devastating for a business like ours,” he stated. “We are currently working with consultants to find every opportunity to be as energy efficient as possible in our operation. We are also studying, very closely, the opportunity for developing our own co-gen energy system.
“Having a voice that represents all the forest industry to government on issues like this will be a lot more effective than approaching it as individuals.”
Osmond pointed out the economic importance of businesses like Burton’s Cove. “We employ 50 people directly in our mill and probably another 150 people in businesses who supply products and services to us. That is very significant in rural Newfoundland. The other mills in our association also make significant economic contributions. Having a cohesive voice will help us remain an important part of the economy.”
Rex Philpott manager of Cottle Island Lumber Company in Summerford, NL, another association member, added: “Forming an industry organization is the only way to go. It gives us a unified voice to bring attention to issues that impact the industry. The timing is right, we have Kruger (Corner Brook Pulp and Paper) on side and we also have the support of our provincial government to move in this direction.”
On the Cover:
Fallers in B.C’s coastal forest industry work in tough ground—and safety is paramount. E&B Helicopters has the back of fallers, and the forest companies, operating on the coast, through providing air transportation and emergency evacuation services. Its Medevac (Medical Evacuation) capable helicopters are able to get in to spots where B.C.’s Air Ambulance Service machines can’t reach. Read all about E&B and its president, Ed Wilcock, and the services it offers to fallers beginning on page 14 of this issue. (Cover photo courtesy of BC Forest Safety Council).
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