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Pause To Take a Look at the Big Picture

by Jim Stirling

Never mind worrying about the softwood lumber dispute, even though interprovincial squabbles and internal rifts desperately need consensus before ratifying a negotiating stance with the Americans. For a precious moment, try not to be preoccupied with stumpage rates, other high operating costs, native land claims, environmental issues, job losses, mill closures, corporate consolidation, product certification and politics. Or any of the other unmentionable ingredients in the murky brew of daily survival. Instead, grab a coffee, take some deep breaths, and look out the window. Start to feel better. Consider some of the abiding positives and advantages inherent in the makeup of the nation's forest industry. Be reminded about the quality of our raw material.

Blessed by its geography, Canada produces some of the best wood fibre in the world. Our wood possesses great structural strength and the characteristics to be successfully processed into a myriad of quality products. This becomes an unbeatable combination when twinned with the collective abilities and talents of the men and women who make the industry work day in, day out. Offered first, but for no particular reason, is the forest industry and its peoples' ability to change. Granted, this is and has been honed by necessity. But in this case, change is no empty buzzword. For example, logging contractors have completed a quantum leap in short order-from steering brute force machinery to harmonizing technical and sophisticated log harvesting systems with minimal environmental damage.

Similarly, millwrights and sawmill workers have made the transition from operating in a mechanical and physical environment to the computer controlled world of speed, precision and fine tolerances. And yet-and this is interesting-in both work places, traditional ingenuity and the rollup the sleeves attitude necessary to getting things to work even better has not been sacrificed during this extraordinary evolutionary process. And yes, we can cyberspeak. The ability to develop new markets for wood products and customize them to end user specification seems limited only by the imagination. Niche marketing, and discovering niches within niches, is most prevalent in the realms of value added secondary remanufacture. It is a sector of unparalleled potential, providing wood byproducts and residues are made consistently available. As a result, resource utilization standards are being regularly redefined.

The ability to innovate is a predominant characteristic of the Canadian forest industry. The range of composite and engineered wood products that have evolved in the last few years bears testament to this. Others will follow. Some 30 years ago, the lodgepole pine was considered a weed species in BC. No one talks about weed species anymore. The west is now catching up with eastern Canadian companies in their expertise at converting hardwoods into valuable products. The Canadian forest industry has had plenty of practice demonstrating its underestimated ability to hunker down. This allows its people to waste minimal effort on what cannot be controlled, concentrating energy instead on working better where it can positively influence outcome.

This hunkering down quality is linked to the ability the industry has to bounce back from adversity and endure political folly. And we're getting much better with our ability to communicate outside the industry. Progress has been less dynamic, but working on ingrained attitudes is never easy or fast. Straight, honest consensus seeking has improved the industry's ability to modify the mainstream of environmental consciousness. Similarly, fewer interest groups and members of the public see the industry as shameless rapers and pillagers of the natural environment. At worst, communication efforts have helped diffuse the unfairness of black and white judgments into shades of grey. Communicating effectively with politicians, while always a challenge, is also improving.

Their mindset is election to election. But more elected officials are beginning to grasp that caring adequately for forest lands, whatever the combination of uses, requires a longer term vision. Perhaps the Canadian forest industry's most enduring ability is the contribution it continues to make to the economy and well-being of communities across the country. The industry is a huge provider of wealth and taxes that go a long way to nurturing our much envied life style. We're making inroads with education programs for young people through initiating much needed, updated and nonbiased forest use curriculum material into schools. Canadian colleges and universities offer many fine courses focusing on the multidisciplinary approach, responsibility and understanding essential to forest landscape management. Their graduates are delivering energy, enthusiasm and knowledge to their roles as managers and conciliators. The new crop of trees looks equally promising. Tree plantations are growing better than anticipated.

The experts are predicting enhanced yield benefits from them. It helps emphasize what progressive foresters have said for years. Money spent wisely on silviculture and intensive forest management practices will produce superior tree growing performance from the existing land base, along with all the accompanying downstream benefits. Finally, daylight minutes are increasing daily as we move hesitantly toward spring. The elusive season will occur in its fashion across the land. Trees will respond as the sun warms the soil and forests will grow anew from Masset to Mayo and Gimli to Gander. And as the trees are renewed and reinvigorated so indeed, as their stewards, should we be buoyed.

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This page last modified on Tuesday, February 17, 2004