The time is right for a new model for managing B.C.’s forests

By Jim Stirling

Cast a look across the horizon of the recently minted year 2023 and it looks too much like 2022 to inspire much confidence.

The warming world, war, disease and their domino implications still dominate the immediate future. They are joined this year not only by the range of uncertainties which routinely confront the forest industry, but also less frequent worries. Unstable inflation rates and declining growth rates concern forecasters, along with questions about the widening gap between rich and poor.

The list of familiar issues for the forest industry includes sawlog availability, rising operating costs, continuing skilled labour shortages and the faltering lumber markets in Asia along with a characteristically belligerent market in the United States.

Against that backdrop, the forest industry in north-central British Columbia is hunkering down into its mid-winter routine as much as circumstances permit. But this year can be different. The timing is right for B.C.’s NDP government to start talking frankly about its intentions to the provincial forest sector.

For several months, the government has been lobbing threats of major changes that would greatly influence how the industry functions in the province. The permanent withdrawal of the forest industry’s remaining access to ‘old growth’ forests in the province is one example. The threat to annex the cutting rights of some forest companies is another.

The present B.C. government has the same troubling tendencies of many of its predecessors. It tends to listen to whichever self interest group is attracting the public’s attention and—in the case of the forest industry—frame its land use decision-making accordingly.

But the tap root to the forest industry’s dilemmas lies within the policies guiding it. Governments, the forest industry and other groups with a vested and legitimate interest in provincial forest land use are fighting a doomed battle. They’re trying to make a regulatory system dating back more than 100 years fit today’s economy, social expectations and government agendas which have vastly changed.

One can only tinker with a clapped-out car for so long before it finally gives up the ghost entirely. The time is right for a new model for managing B.C.’s forests; one that reflects new thinking to complement the world’s new realities.

For example, the provincial government, First Nations and the forest industry could work co-operatively to identify, designate and protect areas of provincial land as part of a working forest. The B.C. Council of Forest Industries (COFI) is one group to have suggested examining the approach. The general idea is to create areas in the province where forestry is the prime, though not necessarily only, land use.

There could be several advantages to such an initiative. A working forest designation would provide a solid platform for industry re-organization to occur. It could also usher in a different approach to forest management.

A form of working forest would likely look quite different from today’s landscapes. It would still include primary wood product manufacturers. They could be complemented with small and medium-sized operations closely aligned to available timber supplies. Access to a consistent supply of usable wood fibre is the oxygen for all sizes of wood manufacturing units. More of the working forest’s Annual Allowable Cut equivalent could end up being harvested by logging methods requiring agile, versatile equipment.

The levels of consultation and co-operation required to create a working forest would also be expanded to overhaul B.C.’s Timber Supply program, if a new version is required.

The potential rewards for success are considerable. The creation of a working forest could well prove a literal lifeline for many forest industry-reliant communities throughout the B.C. Interior and on Vancouver Island. A nearby sawmill, for example, would provide community stability by attracting new families. It would also help counter the growing myth of forestry as a sunset industry in B.C. Community-based sawmills and wood processing plants would be configured to best match present and predicted timber profiles.

A working forest with more secure communities could also help sweep away some uncertainties surrounding investment in the B.C. Interior forest industry. Institutional lenders are more likely to look favourably at mill upgrades or infrastructure improvements if questions surrounding returns on investment can be mitigated.

A working forest model could encourage more intensive management techniques to better suit the needs of a specific area. Remaining areas of ’old growth’ forests comprise an example, as does maintaining critical habitat for mountain caribou herds. In other words, the creation of a working forest model in B.C. could help enhance the generally high standards of forest stewardship practiced on B.C.’s forest lands.

The B.C. government would benefit from the establishment of a working forest in ways beyond a better managed forest land base. It would collect stumpage fees from the forest industry, if that form of payment was extended, along with the range of other taxes applied to the forest industry in the course of conducting its business.

Forestry’s working framework in B.C. might urgently require overhaul, but not everything related to it needs dramatic change. The people working at all levels within B.C.’s forest industry have always exemplified rare drive and ingenuity. They will respond with similar attitudes to capitalize on the opportunities changes like the establishment of a working
forest will stimulate.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal

January/February 2023

On the Cover:
In an exclusive story to Logging and Sawmilling Journal, we take a look at SBC Cedar, a major North American manufacturer of eastern white cedar shingles, with mills in Quebec and New Brunswick—and a lengthy family heritage stretching back generations in the cedar shingle business, in this issue. While SBC Cedar maintains a modest position in the Canadian forest industry, it is raising its profile by being the host for the Demo International forestry equipment show, in the Gatineau Region, north of Ottawa, in 2024. Please see the story beginning on page 16 (Cover photo by George Fullerton).

Forest Management Solutions
Nova Scotia’s Atlantic Tree Solutions is having success using Nisula wood harvesting products—such as Nisula’s 205E tree shear—thanks to the solid dependability of the company’s products, and technical dealer support.

Conference Advance Story
In a look at the upcoming Council of Forest Industries (COFI) conference—being held April 12 to 14 in Prince George—Logging and Sawmilling Journal talks with Linda Coady, the relatively new President and CEO of COFI, who has deep roots in the forest industry, having previously worked for industry icons MacMillan Bloedel and Weyerhaeuser.

SBC Cedar: State-of-the-art shingle producer—and Demo host
Quebec’s SBC Cedar, has a family heritage in the industry that stretches back generations, and takes pride on continuing to deliver quality cedar shingle products—and the company will be host to the massive Demo logging equipment show in 2024.

Keeping an eye on things, mill-wise
Opticom Technologies is helping forest companies stay on top of their game in terms of performance, with the latest in mill camera technology.

Band sawmilling
The Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick is creating economic opportunities for its band members, having purchased a local sawmill that had closed, and re-starting it with a team of mostly new workers, half of whom are from the band.

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) and FPInnovations.

The Last Word
The time is right for a new model for managing B.C.’s forests. says Jim Stirling.


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