The Last Word

The Softwood Lumber Board may have a low key approach—but it's delivered some very solid results

By Jim Stirling

SLA is a familiar letter combination in the forest industry’s lexicon. It’s been especially familiar recently as the United States and Canada are once again at political loggerheads trying to lay the foundations for a new Softwood Lumber Agreement between the two countries.

The SLB, in contrast, has less resonance for many.

The Softwood Lumber Board is in key ways the opposite of the SLA. The SLB’s work is about co-operation between the U.S. and Canada—not confrontation.

The SLB’s efforts are dedicated to promoting the uses and benefits of softwood lumber in the U.S. marketplace. The organization has been remarkably efficient to that end through participating in a range of initiatives. It helped generate 1.02 billion board feet of incremental softwood lumber demand in the U.S. during 2017.

Word of the SLB’s achievements was passed on to a record 570 delegates attending the BC Council of Forest Industries annual convention in Prince George in April. The SLB was put on the council’s agenda as a gentle reminder to attending licencees.

The organization is sustained by the forest companies selling softwood lumber into the U.S. market. The first five-year period of SLB operation has ended and the organization’s supporters need to re-affirm its work by pledging funding for the next five-year period. The recommendation to the COFI audience was clear: the B.C. forest industry can’t afford not to invest in the SLB.

Among the forest industry executives at the convention endorsing the SLB’s work were Duncan Davies, president and CEO of Interfor and co-chair of the BC Lumber Trade Council, and Don Kayne, president and CEO of Canfor Corporation.

“One oft-overlooked but key ingredient to the SLB’s success has been its ability to bring together American and Canadian companies to work toward a common goal of expanding markets,” wrote Kayne in a recent posting on SLB’s website. Kayne was also chair of the SLB’s programs committee. The SLB’s umbrella brings together large and small companies—publicly traded and private—in a united effort to grow markets to the benefit of all softwood lumber producers in both countries, added Kayne.

Through the SLB’s focused and targeted programs, its investments have protected and grown markets equivalent to more than 3.6 billon board feet of softwood lumber demand since it began its work in 2012, he continued.

The softwood lumber sector’s importance to the economies of both countries is significant. A recent report commissioned by the SLB highlighted the importance to the U.S. economy of the softwood lumber manufacturing sector. The report estimates 775,674 jobs with a total payroll of more than $46 billion are tied to the softwood lumber manufacturing industry.

Softwood lumber producers in the U.S. and Canada participate in and receive benefits from the work of several industry organizations through the SLB. Kayne said these include the American Wood Council. Its work involves developing the evidence base that proves the viability of wood use and uses that data to influence building standards. Other organizations supported by the SLB included: Think Wood Use, promoting wood use in on-residential construction; WoodWorks, which provides design and construction solutions to encourage incorporating more wood use into more projects; and the Wood, Naturally campaign focusing on homeowners’ pre-buying decisions.

The SLB also supports the American Wood Council’s work in creating more opportunities for softwood lumber use in taller wood buildings. Wood buildings in the five to 12 storey range account for about 23 per cent of new construction in the U.S. Wood’s performance ticks all the boxes when it comes to cost and durability while filling the growing demand for a building material that’s environmentally sustainable. Wood use simultaneously stimulates needed growth and job creation in rural communities.

The long journey toward effecting building code changes surrounding tall mass timber building construction took a step forward in mid-April during the deliberations in the U.S. of the International Code Council’s code change committee. If the proposals put forward by the American Wood Council are approved, wood buildings up to 18 storeys in height may be included in future sets of building codes.

The first five years of results for the SLB speak volumes to the efficacy of the organization’s low key approach to broadening the appeal and consumption of softwood lumber in the U.S. But the achievements haven’t gone unnoticed by the lobbies of the competing building materials of concrete and steel. Any expansion of wood use beyond the traditional single family dwelling is viewed as an incursion that needs repelling by big concrete and steel. And they’re fighting back. Dramatic photos of burning wood buildings are part of their negative advertising agendas.

In British Columbia at least, the forest industry has not been very efficient in telling its story in the right way or at the right time. Historically it’s been caught flat-footed in the PR wars, leaving few options other than damage control. That strategy doesn’t cut it in the mind-numbing world of social media. Becoming selectively proactive might prove to be a positive approach for the SLB. Wood as a building material has much going for it including its environmental aspects that concrete and steel simply cannot claim. Telling wood’s story while it can still be told might prove to be a sound strategy and help make the SLB’s next five years as rewarding as its first.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal
May/June 2018

On the Cover:
Rod Dillman Contracting crews were recently harvesting wildfire-blackened timber in the south Cariboo region of British Columbia. The fire-ravaged timber is the legacy from B.C.’s worst forest wild fire season, in 2017. Read about how they are approaching the salvage logging in this issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal, beginning on page 20 (Cover photo courtesy of Southstar Equipment).


Spotlight: First Nations and forestry partnership
A new training program in B.C.—adopted from Ontario—hopes to help make a difference for First Nations youth, and the forest industry.

Big yarder investment
B.C.’s Western Forest Products has invested in logging equipment big-time recently, with the purchase of a LC650 grapple yarder from T-Mar Industries.

Australian Salvage Logging
Two Australian entrepreneurs have mastered a means of harvesting still-standing drowned forests from the bottom of hydro lakes in the Australian island state of Tasmania, and it involves some pretty interesting equipment.

Harvesting B.C.’s fire-ravaged forests
Rod Dillman Contracting is now tackling harvesting fire-salvage timber in the Cariboo region, one of the areas hit by B.C.’s worst forest fire season, when more than 12,000 square kilometres was burned by megafires.

Veteran sawyer chooses veteran mill equipment
When it came to setting up his own business, veteran sawyer Gary Francis decided to opt for decades of mill manufacturing experience, and purchased a TimberKing band mill—and it’s now at the centre of the business, known simply as … Gary’s Mill.

New and Noted at the Interior Logging Association’s 60th
We take a look at the new products that were one of the highlights of the 60th annual Interior Logging Association Conference and Trade Show, held in Kamloops in May.

The Edge
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates and FPInnovations.

The Last Word
The Softwood Lumber Board may have a low key approach, but it has delivered some very solid results, says Jim Stirling.


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