The last word

In spite of the COVID-19 virus, the forest industry is buckling down and­—as it
always has—is getting the job done

By Jim Stirling

The COVID-19 virus forced many world businesses to hang up the ‘closed until further notice’ sign. That said, the forest industry in the British Columbia Interior has so far been more fortunate. There’s still a light on in the window, albeit illuminated by a 40-watt bulb. But the disease’s spread has undoubtedly changed the ways the forest industry goes about its daily business and how it plans for future contingencies.

It seemed like overnight people became experts in the practice of “social distancing”, surely the worst example of politically correct code for ‘don’t cough on each other’. Forest companies were asked to comply with regulatory changes which altered with the rapidity of infection rate spreads. Companies issued COVID-19 response measures that we’ve all become familiar with in industries from airlines to zoos.

For example, B.C.-based Conifex Timber Inc., issued a statement April 1, 2020 which read, in part: “The health and safety of our employees, contractors and their families is our top priority. In addition to adhering to public health directives, we have implemented a pandemic contingency plan to guide our employees, contractors, visitors, facilities and operations. Our plan includes restricting access to our offices and operation sites, restricting business travel, mandating self-isolation for anyone who has travelled, is exhibiting symptoms or has been exposed to the virus, practicing appropriate social distancing at our premises and increasing the frequency and emphasis on cleaning and sanitizing.”

The Conifex statement also announced a two-week shutdown of its Mackenzie, B.C. sawmill, mirroring what was happening with other forest companies around the B.C. Interior to reduce lumber production in response to a crazy market situation. “Extreme market volatility and major economic turmoil” is the way Canfor Corporation CEO Don Kayne described the situation when announcing an operating loss of $88.9 million for the company during the first quarter of 2020.

The Coronavirus meant many forest company office workers have been asked to work from home as a self-isolating precaution, especially if they had recently travelled overseas. Working from home has a comforting sound to it. In reality, the practice is a double-edged sword, with pros and cons. Padding around the house in jammies at all hours might sound appealing. And the technology exists to easily keep in contact with the office in a variety of ways. But working from home for people not accustomed to it does take getting used to on an operational basis.

There’s no lack of tips on the Internet designed to keep the newly isolated worker productive. Most of it is common sense: recommendations like establishing a makeshift office, setting regular hours and routines. Some of the work-from-home tipsters express concerns about how their subjects will handle the phenomenon from a mental perspective, not just a productivity one.

The practice of working from home has been accelerated by the Coronavirus spread, but has been a growing workplace option for employers looking to trim fixed operating costs, as well as achieve other efficiencies. When the emergency subsides, it may be that working from home becomes more common for some forest industry employees.

B.C. sawmills have had plenty of practice dealing with hazards and mitigating their impacts. Mill managers have become expert at introducing and maintaining protection and safety management protocols. With the advanced levels of automation, there are fewer people working on the sawmill floor at any one time. The problem for the sector is more one of the reduced number of plants and the impacts of market-driven production curtailments.

The numbers of logging trucks rolling through interior B.C. communities has been reduced in the last few months, but logs are still moving. But logging contractors and machine operators are used to spending large chunks of their working days alone on the job. The communication systems in each machine help to keep each log harvesting sector in operational touch.

The day’s routine work is similarly solitary for most outdoor workers in the silvicultural sector. The challenges there are accented when tired tree planters, for example, return to their camps for some necessary R&R. Fortunately, most of the work force is young and healthy. It doesn’t provide immunity to the virus, but youth does offer at least a statistical advantage to infection.

One of the most consistent problems with the Coronavirus situation is selecting the fact from the fanciful in the daily smorgasbord of information with which the public has been bombarded. The banishment from usual public activities also creates the perfect petri-dish for a culture of misinformation—and plain stupidity—to flourish, And it has. The people and organizations which take pleasure in propagating such stuff have had weeks of field days. The net result is a bad situation is made worse.

At the time of writing, most Canadian provinces were figuring out ways of gently re-introducing normalcy. The doomsayers were having a wonderful time assuring everyone nothing will ever be the same. The world’s economies are shot, despite the vast amounts of money leaders are throwing at them. Trade patterns and strategies are severely compromised. And, don’t forget, we still have awaiting us the implications of a warning climate and a damaged planet.

It seems B.C,’s forest industry routinely faces such calamitous sounding scenarios. It has always emerged stronger. The forest industry has learned to buckle down and very ably concentrate on what it can do and control.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal

On the Cover:
One of the largest sawmill construction projects in North America last year came together without a great deal of fanfare—but a lot of hard work—in southeastern Alabama. Since then, Rex Lumber, Troy LLC has been steadily working its way up to production capacity thanks to a committed workforce, experienced management, and family ownership that stretches back almost 100 years in the forest industry. Key to building the project was Rex Lumber’s Canadian-based equipment and construction partner, The BID Group. (Cover photo courtesy of Utility Power South).

Taking forest management to a whole new level—literally—with drones
Drones have evolved into a cost effective tool for the forest industry, as B.C.’s Burns Lake Community Forest has discovered over the last several years.

Southern sawmilling, with a bit of Canadian flavour …
One of the largest sawmill construction projects in North America came together last year in Alabama for Rex Lumber thanks, in part, to Canadian-based construction and equipment partner, The Bid Group.

Using salvage wood to produce log homes—and more
A B.C. company, T.L. Timber, has found a solid market niche in manufacturing log homes and timber—all of it produced from dry wood that has been salvaged from mountain pine beetle stands or forest fires.

Saw Filers Show - In Print
Saw filing-related equipment manufacturers have not stopped developing new products, and we are happy to feature these new products and technologies.

The Edge
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, is a feature story from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC).

Tech Update
In this issue, Logging and Sawmilling Journal looks at everything that’s new in millyard equipment, from cranes to loaders to forklifts—it’s all here.

The Last Word
The COVID-19 virus has undoubtedly changed the ways the forest industry goes about its daily business and how it plans for future contingencies, notes Jim Stirling. That said, the forest industry is buckling down and—as it always has—is getting the job at hand done.

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