Will the forest policy review for the B.C. Interior yield a new vision for the forestry industry?

By Jim Stirling

It’s not usually a signal for unbridled optimism when governments embark on policy reviews. There is a sense however—and a hope—that British Columbia’s review of its Interior forest policies might prove different.

The government’s stated objective is to revitalize the provincial forest industry. The process began with a review and recommendations to help kick-start a moribund coastal forest industry. Now the attention has switched to the Interior at a time when the engine of the provincial forest industry is sputtering in ways it rarely has before. The wood fibre crunch is one of the reasons.

First, the mountain pine beetle and now other beetle infestations are taking their toll. B.C.’s worst two recorded wildfire seasons back to back have further eroded the industry’s available fibre base. Just for good measure, the marketing scenario for B.C.’s traditional wood products is extremely volatile. We have Trump protectionism, Chinese belligerence and new lumber competitors like Russia adding their influence to the mix.

The NDP government’s point man for the Interior forestry review is John Allan. He’s presently deputy minister for B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. Allan has a wealth of forest industry experience at influential levels including stints with the B.C. Forest Safety Council, B.C. Council of Forest Industries (COFI) and the B.C. Lumber Trade Council.

This assignment is potentially a different animal. It represents an opportunity to set new ground rules for B.C.’s Interior industry. The question is what does that vision look like—or is a new vision even on the government’s agenda?

Observers seeking hints had the opportunity recently to fuel their speculation. The occasion was a forestry session at the recent BC Natural Resource Forum held in Prince George, B.C. Allan was participating in a panel discussion fittingly titled “Charting Forestry’s Future.” He spoke about B.C.’s business climate and emphasized the need to work together. But some of Allan’s more interesting comments—interpretation-wise that is—came during an audience question period after the panelists’ formal comments.

Given the background of a fibre gold rush underway in the B.C. Interior, Allan said: “We can’t be eating each other’s lunch,” and “some will have to make do with less.” He talked about the need for a rational policy. “We can’t keep on fighting with each other. We need an approach to (better) understanding each other.” Perhaps there really are some interesting changes on the horizon.

It’s probably not coincidence there are other stories in this issue of Logging & Sawmilling Journal that reflect the stir for change. A story out of Quesnel, for example, where the regional forest industry and academics are co-operating to find workable ways to better manage a forest landscape that’s recently been ravaged by insects and wildfires. They believe continuing the status quo type of management is not a viable option. Instead, forest land management in their areas requires a broader perspective and more applied silviculture than treating a forest stand just as 2x4s in waiting.

Possible answers to the types of questions the Quesnel group are asking are sure to be closely followed in other regions of the Interior.

Allan’s pleas for a more co-operative and understanding approach among the players in the B.C. Interior forest industry resonates on several levels. Forest companies, large and small, have become excellent collaborators. They’ve proven they can set aside the competitive aspects of their relationships when it comes to furthering the reputation and influence of the forest industry as a whole. The marketing file contains several recent examples. The methodical and patient work to develop new offshore markets for wood products has been hugely successful and continues on several fronts. Japan, China, South Korea and other Asian markets are examples of just how effective a co-ordinated approach between levels of government and the forest industry can be in practical business terms.

It doesn’t garner a lot of headlines but the slow steady work of altering building codes to include a  wider acceptance and scope for wood product use has and will continue to open the doors of opportunity for new primary and secondary wood product manufacturers.

From the horrors of two sawmill fires in central B.C. during 2012 came another example of the regional industry coming together. The galvanized sector co-operated with speed and efficiency to formulate new industry-wide standards to help forest companies mitigate the dangerous accumulations of sawdust and wood debris within their wood processing environments.

A common denominator in all these examples of the forest industry’s ability to work co-operatively is the commitment to do so came from the top of the largest forest companies in B.C. The CEOs made sure things got done, from a commitment to building code changes in foreign lands to containing flammable sawdust in the local mill.

Co-operation and understanding as Allan encourages is always preferable long term to confrontation. But there’s one ritual within most forest companies where confrontation tends to overrule co-operation. It surrounds the fractious relationship between licencees and their log harvesting contractors. The pair are part of the same supply chain. They are—or should be—on the same team and they need each other to succeed. Yet the sparks still fly at rate negotiation time. Some licencees have tried log harvesting only to revert to using contractors. Perhaps some smart company can solve the conundrum by putting into practice some of Allan’s co-operation. And in the process, convert all that negative energy into a competitive advantage.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal
May 2019

On the Cover:
From mill loaders to trucks to logging equipment, it will all be featured at the upcoming Canada North Resources Expo, taking place May 24 to 25 in Prince George, B.C. Read all about the show, and who is going to be there, beginning on page 30 of this issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal, the Official Show Guide (Cover photo of Tolko mill operation by Paul MacDonald).

Strategic sanitation logging—from the air
A targeted sanitation logging program—including heli-logging—of beetle-infected Douglas fir is underway in the B.C. Interior, and it looks like it’s having an impact on controlling the rate of spread of the beetle.

Dam logging!
There is a heckuva large log salvage project going on in B.C., but it’s got nothing to do with beetle salvage or fire-salvage—this kind of salvage involves logging green merchantable timber as part of building the massive $10 billion Site C dam in northeastern B.C.

First Nations bridge building—with wildfire wood
A First Nations-owned company in the B.C. Interior, Cariboo Aboriginal Forest Enterprises, is building bridges—and soon will be building homes—with lumber they’re producing from wood burned in a 2017 wildfire.

Protecting a community (forestry) asset
The Williams Lake Community Forest in the B.C. Interior is working to both manage an expanding Douglas fir beetle infestation and put in place wildfire mitigation strategies to protect and enhance what has become a valued and well-used asset.

Pellet plant delivering polished performance
Bringing new manufacturing plants online can be a challenge, but the Smithers Pellet plant in the B.C. Interior is clicking right along, thanks to a team effort on its start-up in late-2018.

Jack of all trades logger
David Craig is truly a jack of all trades when it comes to equipment and logging, doing everything from timber harvesting to log clean-up at a lake for one of B.C’s largest dams.

Finding their logging niche…
Family-owned C&H Logging has found their logging niche in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, and these days three generations of the Carter Family are carrying on operations, with safety and sustainability top of mind.

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

Official Show Guide — Canada North Resources Expo
As the Official Show Guide, Logging and Sawmilling Journal has the full scoop on the Canada North Resources Expo—coming up May 24 to 25 in Prince George, B.C.—from feature editorial to a site map to the full listing of exhibitors at this great resource industry show.

The Last Word
Columnist Jim Stirling asks the question: Will the forest policy review for the B.C. Interior yield a new vision for the forest industry?

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