A look ahead for the forest industry...beyond elections and the pandemic

By Jim Stirling

Logging trucks laden with snow-slicked timber are still rolling along the highways of the British Columbia Interior this winter. Not in the quantities of years past perhaps, but wood is flowing to the mills where the lumber being produced is coming off a sustained and record-setting bull market and prices in the United States.

As usual with the forest industry, it’s what’s going on away from the bush and the sawmills that’s framing the near term prospects for B.C.’s forest-reliant communities. And while cluttered with legions of ifs, buts and maybes, most of those prospects are more hopeful than helpless.

As always, it behooves Canada to look south to help foretell its fortunes. The events of the last few months have been remarkable even within the pantheon of U.S. politics. There is a new president who is widely predicted to restore some stability and decorum to the office. America is shifting course, but it’s unlikely any new direction or approach in forest policy between the U.S. and Canada will be anything but constrained in the next few months. But there should be fewer alarming and contradictory tweets emanating from the White House.

In the meantime, we’re playing the familiar games with the U.S. Department of Congress surrounding U.S. softwood lumber duties. The first administrative review at the end of November set the new rates for countervailing and anti-dumping duties on Canadian softwood imports at an average nine per cent. Some company rates had been set at up to 20 per cent.

The reaction was quick, and reinforced the Canadian forest industry’s position. “As we have consistently said and has been proven in previous rounds of litigation, the Canadian industry is not subsidized and this trade action levelled by U.S. producers is completely without merit,” reiterated Susan Yurkovich, CEO of the B.C. Council of Forest Industries (COFI).

While the world was being mesmerized by the bizarre unravelling of the American political machine, B.C. had its own quiet Canadian affair. The event went entirely as hoped for by Premier John Horgan. His NDP party received the majority mandate it sought. The legislative door is now open for potential changes to provincial forest policy.

Horgan appointed Katrine Conroy, the NDP MLA for Kootenay West, as the province’s new Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. Of additional significance to the provincial forest industry was Nathan Cullen’s appointment as Minister of State for Lands and Natural Resource Operations. Cullen is MLA for Stikine and was for 15 years the MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley in Ottawa.

Conroy and Cullen are to co-ordinate the creation of a new Ministry of Lands and Natural Resource Operations. How the process will complicate the functioning of the working forest industry is unknown until the government’s plans are explained.

During the last provincial government, and with the support of the B.C. Green Party, the NDP put in place some building blocks that might provide the framework for its future plans for forestry in B.C. The process was launched with an examination of B.C.’s structurally changed forest industry. It began with a revitalization plan for B.C.’s moribund coastal forest sector. It was followed in the spring of 2019 with an Interior Forest Sector Renewal plan. The plan involved seeking a broad cross section of opinions from around the forest industry, and those with a vested interest in its health.

A further indication of the direction the government proposed following came in November 2019. British Columbia became the first Canadian province to pass legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In February 2020, the provincial forest ministry issued a consultant’s report entitled “What We Heard.” It was a summary of the findings from the Interior Forest Sector Renewal consultation process. What We Heard reported 41 per cent of the survey respondents identified forest tenure and fibre supply as the most important policy area.

This was no surprise. It’s fundamental to the future of the B.C. forest industry and its many lifeblood communities. The second most important policy area identified in the government’s survey was climate change and forest carbon, identified by 23 per cent of respondents. That would seem to primarily be an area requiring co-operation with other ministries and jurisdictions. Fibre and sustainability of timber, along with non-timber values, was identified in importance by 17 per cent of the survey’s respondents.

Premier Horgan dropped a couple more hints about his government’s direction of forestry in his mandate letter to forests minister Conroy. He called on her to lead the transition of B.C.’s forest sector from high volume to high value production, and to increasing value added initiatives of the forest economy including making mass timber use a priority in public buildings.

And, of course, there’s the COVID-19 pandemic. The world is chasing an effective antidote to an elusive foe. The virus appears to develop new characteristics with each set of headlines, each one a seeming contradiction to its predecessor. But COVID-19 will ultimately be controlled.

Unfortunately, the current situation offers a convenient and partly understandable diversion from action and attention on other fronts for the B.C. government, including forestry. Perhaps the biggest challenge therefore during the next few months will be to maintain a government focus on the forest industry. Changes implemented now can help restore healthier forests and a more diversified forest industry in B.C.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal

January/February 2021

On the Cover:
Logging contractor Tyler Backer of Pro Link Logging has seen a technological revolution within British Columbia’s forest industry, and says he’s always got an eye open for new harvesting equipment developments and techniques that might enhance Pro Link Logging’s efficiency. Read all about his logging approach—and the equipment he executes that approach with, such as this Hitachi 260 processor —beginning on page 18 of this issue (photo courtesy of Pro Link Logging).

B.C. partnership steps up to the plate in training equipment operators
The City of Quesnel, B.C. and partners are looking to step up to the plate to train logging equipment operators on harvesting methods new to most B.C. loggers.

Virtual convention coming up
The BC Council of Forest Industries’ Annual Convention is going virtual for 2021, and we talk with COFI CEO Susan Yurkovich about the compelling speakers and the important issues in forestry that will be discussed at the convention in April—and what new U.S. President Joe Biden might mean for the industry.

Dealing with changing logging logistics
Logging contractor Tyler Backer is dealing with changing logging logistics in the B.C. Interior these days, such as working in steeper ground—but he has the dedicated people and tough iron to successfully take it all on.

Landrich 2.0 is launched
The Landrich harvester 2.0 version has been launched by New Brunswick’s A. Landry Fabrication, and the new machine features a number of improvements suggested by very loyal customers of the original Landrich harvester.

Enhancing pellet production—and quality—at Pinnacle
Pinnacle Renewable Energy recently completed a $30 million investment package in B.C.’s Cariboo region designed to enhance pellet production efficiency—and product quality.

Big recovery boost for Quebec mill with upgrade
The Bois CFM Inc. sawmill in Sainte-Florence, Quebec recently installed a new optimized primary and secondary line from USNR to meet growing customer demand, that will move its production to the next level.

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 (CWFC), FPInnovations and the Faculty of Forestry of University of B.C.

 The Last Word
Jim Stirling takes a look ahead for the forest industry, beyond the recent elections, and COVID-19.


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