Finding the smart—although difficult—path forward for the B.C. forest industry

By Jim Stirling

Improving any situation begins with recognizing changes need to be made. The B.C. Council of Forest Industries (COFI) has initiated conversations among its partners about what the next generation of forest industry might look like in its recently published plan, “Smart Future: A Path Forward for B.C.’s Forest Industry.”

It’s a comprehensive report—and a candid one. “Smart Future” doesn’t pretend to have all the answers and recognizes many details require clarification. The document doesn’t address where the money might come from to achieve its objectives. And, naturally enough, some of COFI’s suggestions reflect the interests and biases of its membership—the major forest companies in the province.

COFI’s contribution contains 60 policy choices in five broad categories that it believes will steer the forest industry toward a less volatile future. The five areas COFI identified are: invest in and protect the working forest land base; have smart rules to protect the environment and encourage investment; strengthen participation of indigenous people and community partnerships; double down on market and product diversification; and be the global hub for expertise in low-carbon green building.

“Industry is ready to work with all parties to put these ideas into action,” declared Don Kayne, chair of COFI when the document was publicly introduced. “Working in partnership, we can create the right conditions for a world-leading, globally competitive and innovative manufacturer of high quality, sustainable products that support skilled jobs and provide economic benefits for communities, First Nations and all British Columbians.”

The first area cited—“Invest in and protect our working forest land base”—serves as a good example of the approach the organization took to its subject. It’s no surprise to anyone working in the forest industry during the last few years to learn the land available for forestry activities has been consistently whittled down. The public’s expectations from the forest industry to continue delivering B.C.’s ‘good life’, especially in small communities, remains but now it has to be generated from a smaller operating area. COFI says 52.3 per cent of the B.C. land base is now covered by some form of conservation designation.

“A key choice that would help build the confidence that drives investment into the province would be to settle on the size of our working forest and lock it in. This will allow companies and communities to plan a future that workers can count on,” says COFI.

The organization also suggests implementing a ‘no net loss’ policy to provide certainty in the long term and have that policy subject to a review every five years.

Finding ways to reduce the levels of uncertainty that have haunted the B.C. forest sector in recent months and years is a recurring motivating theme behind many of COFI’s suggestions for change.

A physically smaller working forest underlines the necessity of improving the value and productivity it generates. Technology in its various forms is viewed by COFI as a means of enhancing the fibre resource, especially when it’s superimposed on the many implications of a warming climate.

As examples, COFI cited the applications of LiDAR (light detection and ranging), artificial intelligence and drone technologies to produce accurate and updated timber inventory information. You need an accurate knowledge of what’s available to manage it sustainably.

COFI also addressed a familiar subject in NSR lands. Not Sufficiently Restocked forest lands are a grab bag classification most frequently used to include harvested sites left to the vagaries of natural regeneration. COFI, ever cognizant of the B.C. Interior’s timber supply woes, urges the accelerated replanting of the province’s NSR lands with the optimistic goal of a five-year completion target.

Smart Future maintained the theme of intensifying forest management techniques in the working forest, from implementing commercial thinning programs to improving seed stock. Lessons well learned from the mountain pine beetle epidemic and the wildfires of 2017 and 2018 are prominent in the document. It urges “vigilant monitoring” of forest pest infestations in B.C; the spruce bark beetle represents just one of concern. And COFI recommends a maximum window of 24 months for salvaging timber after a wildfire. The reasons cited are to maximize the economic value from the fire damaged-stands and to quickly restore the landscape through treatment and re-planting into productive forest.

COFI also calls for the creation of a biomass tax credit to utilize residual forest fibre from dimensional lumber logging. The organization says a tax credit would create employment and boost the low carbon economy.

COFI would also like to see a working group of industry, government and academia established “for the development of flexible and innovative approaches to climate-affected forests” with a goal of ensuring a more fire-resilient and sustainable fibre supply.

The Smart Future document contains a similar range of suggestions for action in each of the other four major areas it identified. ”Our focus is on ideas that address the things we can control, where we can influence outcomes. We have tried to identify concrete actions that will help build our next generation forest industry and help to achieve the stability, predictability and confidence that we all want.”

It should be interesting to see how other forest groups react to COFI’s vision for the B.C.’s forest industry.

“Smart Future: A Path Forward for B.C.’s Forest Industry.” is available at www.cofi.org

Logging and Sawmilling Journal

On the Cover:
With two summers of record-busting forest fire seasons behind it in 2017 and 2018, the B.C. government is looking for any steps that can be taken to reduce the chance for wildfires. And the province’s forest industry is stepping up to help with that. Read about Gorman Bros. Lumber’s work on a fuel mitigation project in the Okanagan region of the province beginning on page 14. (Cover photo by Paul MacDonald).

Aid package for B.C. forest industry: a little late, and a little light?
The B.C. government has announced a $69 million aid package to forest industry workers and communities that have been affected by mill closures and curtailments—but some critics say it’s late in coming, and does not go far enough.

Capital for constant improvements
The management at Alberta’s Spray Lake Sawmills fully understands the concept of constant improvements, and has recently made some capital investments to upgrade its main breakdown line and expanded its value-added product mix.

Stepping up to help prevent wildfires
The B.C. forest industry is involved in some interesting initiatives to help reduce the risk of forest fires, including a recent fire mitigation project in the Okanagan region involving Gorman Bros. Lumber and logger Donovan Martin.

Handing over the logging reins to the next generation
The Canadian Woodlands Forum’s Outstanding Logging Contractor of the Year, Darrin Carter Logging, is truly a family logging operation, with Darrin Carter in the process of having sons Justin and Cody take on increased responsibility in the business.

Eltec equipment takes on tough ground—anywhere
Quebec-manufactured Eltec logging equipment has earned a solid reputation for performance and reliability in Canada-and abroad—thanks to a focus on producing high performing machines for tough harvesting environments.

Growing the cut in Alberta
Alberta’s new Conservative government is considering more intensive land management to grow its Annual Allowable Cut, by perhaps as much as 30 per cent.

The Edge
Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from Alberta Innovates and Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC).

The Last Word
Jim Stirling talks about finding the smart—although difficult—path forward for the B.C. forest industry.

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