First Cut: November-December 2016
Nov. 25, 2016 - Change is an inevitable part of any business. Companies frequently make changes to meet flighty consumer demands. But it’s not often the federal government warns an entire sector to change – or else.
By Maria Church
In September, Natural Resources Canada released the 2016 State of Canada’s Forests Annual Report – this year themed around climate change – which has a glaring takeaway for the forest products sector: keep up with our changing forests.
“The rate of climate change is projected to be 10 to 100 times faster than the ability of tree species to migrate,” the report states. “This means that some tree species will benefit (for example, growing faster or spreading more widely), while others will become increasingly stressed, potentially dying out over time.”
As well, the annual burn area from forest fires is expected to double by the end of the 21st century.
Adaptation, the report notes, is important for companies to “reduce their vulnerability to the negative effects of climate change.”
The report’s suggestions for ways industry can adapt are far from ground-breaking, and lack detail, but they are worth paying attention to. Some examples include planting a greater diversity of tree species and species with drought tolerance, reducing harvest levels, and changing harvest schedules.
More significantly, the report places some onus on companies themselves to come up with solutions. “Forest companies will need to increase their efforts to find innovative ways to use more dead or low-quality wood salvaged from burned areas or areas invaded by insects or disease.”
Easier said than done. What the report does not outline is how the government plans to encourage companies to implement these potentially costly measures to adapt to climate change. The idea of spending money on innovation is especially unappealing now, as companies brace themselves for the fallout from the failed softwood lumber negotiations.
Jason Edwards, forest adaptation expert with Natural Resources Canada, says while there are no monetary incentives on the federal level, and none he is aware of on the provincial level, there are other incentives to keep in mind. One of those incentives is certification.
“From a company standpoint, being able to demonstrate to third-party certification bodies and to the public that they are doing their best to deliver sustainable forest management, in my view, is an incentive in its own right,” Edwards says.
The Canadian Standard Association just released a new standard for sustainable forest management this year that has clear language around climate change and makes some recommendations based on reports from the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers.
Edwards also notes that some forest product companies are already experiencing operational issues due to climate change, such as lack of access to fibre during the winter or spring thaw, and forest fires.
One possible aid for forest companies is Natural Resource Canada’s Forestry Adaptation Community of Practice (FACoP) – an interactive online community for sharing information and best practices on climate change vulnerability and adaptation. The forum has just over 400 members, Edwards says, but moderators are looking for more input from forest products companies.
Industry associations are also tuning in to climate change. The Forest Product Association of Canada put out a detailed summary on climate change this year, which includes a section on adaptation and climate resilience. The document suggests that, similar to how companies adapted to the threat of the mountain pine beetle by altering harvest plans, so too can they adapt to changing forests.
Innovation is often a product of pressure to change. It remains to be seen how and to what extent the government, public, or Mother Nature herself, exert that pressure on those in the business of wood.
Read the full report at cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/stateoftheforests