CWF 2021 Spring Meeting highlights need for education, new talent to address labour shortage
In 2019, the Canadian Woodlands Forum (CWF) celebrated their 100th anniversary at their annual Spring Meeting. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 Spring Meeting, the event returned this year in a virtual format from April 20-21. The conference drew more than 100 attendees who tuned in to hear experts speak on a range of issues facing the Atlantic Canada’s forest industry, including how to address public misunderstandings about the industry, trends in the lumber market, changing regulations and the ongoing labour shortage.
The conference kicked off with a presentation from Mark Kuhlberg, professor of history at Laurentian University, who shared his personal journey and research into forest history to outline how the industry can fight public misconceptions about the sector’s sustainability practices.
He first explained why many Canadians have a negative perception of the forest industry. One reason is because, today, there is this idea of the “pre-contact forest” – the forest before European settlers came to Canada and began cutting trees. According to Kuhlberg, people often think of the pre-contact forest in romanticized terms, but the reality was very different.
“Since forests first began, there have been natural organisms within them that basically existed to kill the forest,” he explained. This includes the pine beetle and beavers, as well as natural events such as wind storms and wildfires.
Canadians have also forgotten how the country was built on the lumber industry, he said. In the mid-to-late-1800s, eastern Canada had tens of thousands of sawmills producing lumber, and communities emerged that relied on the forest industry.
“Yet, we know very little about these connections, and if we do know about the forest industry, Canadians’ thoughts about them are typically negative,” Kuhlberg said.
This is partially because the public generally has a subjective view of clear cuts in the forests, he explained. For example, there typically isn’t an unfavourable response to farms, which have been clear cut for crops, but there is a negative response to seeing parts of the forest clear cut.
However, clear cutting in the forest emulates natural forest management, Kuhlberg said. Licensees in Ontario, for example, are required to do a certain number of large clear cuts because the science shows this is beneficial for the forests, he explained.
So, how can the forest industry combat the negative public perceptions towards forestry? Through education at the grassroots level.
Kuhlberg called on attendees to think of how they can develop an approach that outlines the benefits of the industry’s sustainable forest management practices. He also encouraged everyone to go out and learn about forest management practices.
“If we love the forests, it is imperative that our approach is run by our heads, not our hearts,” he said. “That means we need to accept that our forests might have some burned patches. It also means that we accept that our forests are best managed by occasionally having large swaths cut out of them.”
And as more people recognize the sustainability of wood products, the industry can use that to help dispel public misconceptions.
‘A leading role’ in sustainability
That trend towards sustainability will also have an impact on the global lumber market, said Joe Clark, global sales manager for Forest2Market, in his presentation on the North American lumber market.
“It seems that more and more people these days are looking to find ways to incorporate sustainability into their lives,” Clark said. “This is something that will continue to carry weight and gain momentum going forward.”
Companies are also starting to evaluate their environmental footprint; this presents an opportunity for the industry to create some innovative solutions. For example, as governments move to ban single-use plastics, the pulp and paper industry can step forward with innovative solutions, Clark said.
Another trend on the sustainability front is the increasing acceptance and demand for cross-laminated timber (CLT) buildings. There will also be new opportunities for the bioeconomy, thanks to a desire to transition to carbon-neutral energy systems.
“These are the reasons why we think the wood products industry has a bright future,” Clark said. “It has a chance to step forward and play a leading role in that chase for sustainability.”
But, of course, the big news in the forest industry is the strong demand for lumber, driven by the housing and remodeling markets.
Clark then gave an in-depth look at the lumber market in North America by region. While most regions have benefitted from the high demand for wood products, eastern North America, in particular its pulp and paper industry, has not done as well, he said.
This is because the region’s paper industry has struggled, especially in the last few years following the closure of two mills in the Great Lake states and Northern Pulp in Nova Scotia. Multiple factors caused this loss in production, but the region’s high supply chain costs is the main problem. The Northeast is at the top when it comes to total conifer fibre prices and supply chain cost for hardwood, Clark explained.
“Even if there was a market for hardwood pulp and it was growing, eastern North America would be one of the last places people would think to look to source fibre because of that cost,” he said.
“It begs the question of how do you turn that around and drive capital back into the industry?” he asked.
Some possible drivers include the current and anticipated softwood lumber demand, high availability of raw material, and the need to create a transparent marketplace. That last factor is particularly important, “because if anyone is looking to invest in the region, they will want to know these points at a high level, to compare regions,” Clark explained.
“The region certainly has some challenges when it comes to raw material costs,” he continued. “But, I don’t think this is all gloom and doom; there are still positive things about the industry.”
This includes eastern North America’s large supply of high-quality resources and number of privately-owned woodlots, and the booming global lumber market.
Update on ELDs
Attendees at the conference then split into concurrent sessions covering a range of topics, including changing regulations for log haulers and education pilot programs that can help address the ongoing labour shortage in the industry.
Mike Millian, president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (PMTC), provided an update on the electronic logging device (ELD) regulation set to come into effect on June 12, 2021.
The Canadian ELD Mandate will require all federally regulated carriers and their commercial drivers to install and use a third-party-certified ELD. However, Transport Canada has only appointed one third-party certification body, FPInnovations. The organization was appointed in October last year, despite Transport Canada announcing ELDs would need to be certified by a third party in June 2019.
This means there is not enough time for ELD manufacturers to get their devices tested and approved before June 12, Millian said. Consequently, no trucking companies or log hauling fleets can comply with the mandate by the deadline.
Consequently, Transport Canada has announced a graduated enforcement period of the ELD mandate, starting on June 12. It will first focus on education and awareness of the new requirement. But, they have not clarified when warnings, fines or penalties will begin, Millian said.
The PMTC has asked for that there only be education and awareness until Dec. 31, 2021, followed by warnings until April 1, 2022 and then full enforcement as of July 1, 2022. But the timeline will be left up to each province and territory, which further complicates the issue, Millian said.
Addressing the labour shortage
Log haulers and truck fleet owners aren’t just facing regulation changes; they’re also facing an ongoing shortage of drivers. To address this issue, the Trucking Human Resources Sector Council (THRSC) Atlantic started working on a forest truck driver training program two-and-a-half-years ago.
Kelly Henderson, executive director of THRSC Atlantic, provided an update on the program.
The forest truck driver training program will be based on the training requirements for truck drivers in Nova Scotia. The province requires anyone who wants a Class 1 license to go to a recognized private truck training career college, where they take eight weeks of classes, followed by four weeks of internship work, Henderson explained.
But, given the specialized nature of log hauling, the pilot program will include some forestry-specific features, such as interviews with potential employers, a forestry simulator to determine hand-eye coordination, and job shadow experience. Loader operator skills training, rollover presentation, defensive driving and safety and mechanical training will also be added.
“Forestry, much like trucking, is not going to be for everyone, but having the opportunity to experience what that means first-hand, to learn the skills that will be required, how they’re working, what the schedules look like – we felt it was important to add that in because it’s not the traditional side of the industry we may be used to,” she explained.
Rob Lehnert, program director of the ASD-N ICE Centre in Miramichi, N.B., also discussed a new educational pilot project that is looking to bring more young people into the industry. In January 2020, ICE Centre launched a mechanized forest equipment operator course, which offers high school students a chance to learn more about what is required to become an equipment operator.
Currently, there is “no chance for high school students to learn anything about forestry – that’s why we started this initiative,” Lehnert explained.
The semester-long course includes 60 hours of classwork, 60 hours of simulator training on Ponsse equipment, and 60 hours of field experience. The first cohort consisted of 12 students; three of them have since enrolled at the New Brunswick Community College, and a few have gone into the forestry workforce, Lehnert shared.
Lehnert is also working with the New Brunswick Department of Education to develop a new forestry class that will provide high school students with a general overview of the industry and the opportunities available to them. The new course should be completed in time to be piloted in schools around New Brunswick in September.
But, “for this to be successful, we need professional promotion of the course and the concept to teachers to get them to want to teach the course,” Lehnert said. Teachers also need training, and local field experiences, as well as a local forestry experts, must be available.
“The keys to success for students are getting them outside, letting them explore the job, and letting them know what that post-secondary career path looks like,” he concluded.
The two-day long conference continued with sessions dedicated to logging operations, forest management, and the impact of changing regulations and climate change.
While the CWF’s Spring Meeting normally includes the annual announcement of the Outstanding Contractor of the Year, COVID-19 has delayed this process. However, Peter Robichaud, executive director of the CWF, hinted that the winners will be announced later this year.