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Editorial: Canadian forestry industry – a resilient industry

COVID-19, market difficulties won’t stop forestry success stories


July 14, 2020
By Ellen Cools
Ellen Cools

The past couple of months have been some of the most difficult and unusual for many of us. As Canada found itself shutting down in the middle of March in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, sawmills and logging operations continued on, doggedly providing the lumber and wood residuals required to make personal protective equipment (PPE) and products used by Canadians every day.

Despite forestry being declared essential across Canada, the economic impact has been severe. Lower lumber demand forced many sawmills to take downtime, and some, like Canfor’s Isle Pierre sawmill in Prince George, B.C., are shutting down permanently as a result of market volatility.

But now that all provinces are beginning to reopen, the lumber market is improving, and sawmills are coming back online.

There is one thing we cannot forget, however – the importance of working safely while COVID-19 remains a threat. On pg. 14 of the CFI May/June 2020 issue, WorkSafeBC shares some of the best practices to follow for working safely during the pandemic.

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And in mid-April, I spoke with David Murray, the corporate safety, HR and environment manager for Gorman Group and co-chairperson of the Manufacturing Advisory Group, for an episode of The CFI Podcast on how to work safely during this time. We discussed safety best practices, the importance of contingency planning, how the industry has responded to this issue, and more. One thing that stood out for me was how the combustible dust issue in B.C. helped the industry prepare for future health and safety crises, such as the pandemic. Consequently, although there is still a lot of uncertainty about what the future will look like, David is confident our resilient industry will emerge from this stronger than ever. An edited version of our conversation can be found on pg. 38 of the CFI May/June 2020 issue.

Resiliency is, of course, key in a cyclical industry like ours. Even through all of the challenges facing the industry – wildfires, mountain pine beetle, dwindling fibre supply, softwood lumber duties, and now COVID-19 – forest products companies are still finding success.

For example, Rob Stewart, owner of mobile chipping and grinding company Stewart Systems Inc., thinks that 13 years at the grind is about to pay off. Despite starting his business in 2007, just before the Great Recession hit, Stewart continued to keep his company and his crew working. Now, as the industry moves away from slash-burning to increasing fibre utilization, he sees success around the corner. Read more about his business on pg. 16 of the CFI May/June 2020 issue.

Meanwhile, Alkali Resource Management (ARM), owned by the Esk’etemc First Nation, is building its capacity to take on long-term land management. Through funding from the Forest Enhancement Society of BC, the B.C. and federal governments, the company has been able to build up community capacity, keeping people employed and actively engaged in forestry. That’s how the company has “weathered the storm with the bad economy and sawmills not accepting wood or shutting down,” says Gord Chipman, forest manager for ARM, on pg. 10 of the CFI May/June 2020 issue.

Some sawmills are also seeing success during this time. Matériaux Blanchet, a planer mill out in Amos, Que., recently invested $25 million to modernize their operations. Now, wood is being pumped out quickly and production records are being broken, and the company does not plan on stopping there. Read more on pg. 34 of the CFI May/June 2020 issue.

This is not to say that we should ignore the devestating impact mill closures have had on forestry workers and communities. But reading these stories of resilience and success inspires me. Although life has changed drastically in the past three months, our industry continues to modernize and reinforce its position as a key renewable sector. As Canada begins to come out of lockdown, I look forward to sharing more encouraging stories.