Forest sector: Everything, everywhere, all at once
Permacrisis, transitioning, predictability were the prevalent words heard at the three-day COFI Convention 2023
April 18, 2023 By Jennifer Ellson
British Columbia’s forest sector is in the midst of a lot of change and arguably having an “Everything, Everywhere All at Once” kind of moment, said BC Council of Forest Industries (COFI) president and CEO Linda Coady at this year’s annual convention
Permacrisis, transitioning, predictability were the prevalent words heard at the three-day event. From April 12-14, speakers including B.C.’s Premier David Eby addressed the sold-out Prince George Civic and Conference Centre crowd of 600.
In private meetings before his speech, Eby said convention delegates expressed concerns about timber supply and the lack of a long-term economic strategy on which to base their forest operations.
Eby acknowledged the critical importance of a reliable fibre supply, and that the permitting phase for natural resources projects takes too long in B.C.
“I know that the state of permitting in the province is unacceptable – it’s too slow, it’s too complicated, and many governments have grappled with it and failed to address it.”
Eby credited COFI’s influence in convincing the government to double the rate of revenue sharing with First Nations for economic development conducted on their traditional territories.
He emphasized that forestry is the bedrock of many B.C. communities.
“We know that we need a healthy primary industry for the value added products segment to prosper.”
In addressing the media after the event, Eby said, “The vital message I have heard from the sector is predictability – they need to know where the trees are coming from and that’s basic for the forest industry. Our goal as a government is to help deliver that.”
Vision, innovation, communication
COFI’s board chair and Sinclar Group Forest Products president Greg Stewart opened the conference saying this is pivotal time for the industry with many changes happening in the sector, whether in technology, policies, public perception and expectations.
Chief Dolleen Logan of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation welcomed the delegates to their territory and made two requests to those present in the room: “First, tell me about your fresh ideas and second, please ramp up all your connections to attract the youth to this industry. Let’s make a significant investment on out youth – we need [them] to take care of our future.”
Prince George Mayor Simon Yu highlighted the sold-out crowd saying, “Your presence here tells us that the forest industry is here to stay. He reiterated the industry’s significance to Prince George’s economy, and the importance of building trust while creating a 50-year vision for forestry. “Once the vision is established, once trust is there, innovation can happen.”
Regional Chief Terry Teegee of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, spoke on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA). He said although implementation has been slow, progress has been significant in B.C. In fact, outside of Bolivia, “we’re the only Indigenous people breaking trail.”
Teegee emphasized the need for better communication and for all governments and the Indigenous Peoples to “come together to create that space to make decisions together.”
Panel on the future
One of the panels discussed the future of the industry and figuring out how to attract young people to work in the industry.
“We’re competing against Google and Amazon … those are the sexy jobs, but I think we have a sexy job too, and the story of sustainability I think is one that we need to shine a brighter light on so that people understand that there is a future in forestry,” said Tricianne Kasabuchi, Canfor’s director of talent development.
She added that one of the biggest barriers for people in choosing a career in forestry is the perception of the industry. “We’re not telling the positive side … we have to change the narrative.”
Rod Bianchini, chief strategy and compliance officer for SkilledTrades BC added that trying to convince the next generation to consider a career in trades is part of his mission.
Caroline Dépatie, associate dean at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, said students look at forestry as traditional, but consider wildlife and silviculture as attractive and the industry should focus on using those to attract the young generation.
We’re in ‘permacrisis’
Public opinion researcher and Abacus Data CEO David Coletto informed the delegates that ‘permacrisis’ was Collins Dictionary’s 2022 word of the year, which refers to an extended period of instability and insecurity. He said that amidst the global pandemic, Canadians had legitimate reasons to feel they were never far away from the next calamity to disrupt their lives.
An Abucus poll showed 17 per cent of British Columbians had a very favourable opinion of the industry, 59 per cent held a somewhat favourable impression, 19 per cent were somewhat unfavourable, while five per cent were very unfavourable.
Ministers talk transition and land use planning
Minister of Forests Bruce Ralston said a more resilient and high-value forest means “adding value in every step.”
“We arguably have the highest quality timber in the world. We can outcompete anyone and that is our plan all along – to transition from high volume to a high value sector.”
Key to achieving this are the many government initiatives such as increasing fibre recovery from slash piles, burnt wood and mountain pine beetle-affected wood; forest rehabilitation after wildfires; sustainable logging practices, fibre distribution to small value-added producers, and the introduction of land use tables. He used the event to announce a $38 million investment in a a new program over the next six years to collect light distance and ranging (LiDAR) elevation data.
“Strong data makes for good decision,” Ralston explained.
LiDAR data is openly and freely available to the public for 11 per cent of B.C.’s landscape currently, and B.C. Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship Nathan Cullen told delegates that the goal is to make it to 100 per cent in six years.
On new approaches to land use planning in B.C., Cullen said DRIPA and the landscape level plans are key, and if done right, the desired certainty is achievable.
“If you do this right – when you get that certainty achieved, when you do that heavy workm you get to a place where everything works. You’re a ‘get ‘er done’ kind of crowd – innovate!” Cullen said.
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