The more things change…
December 10, 2015 - As I sit down to write this column, I’ve been in my new position as head of the Council of Forest Industries for about six weeks. While getting up to speed these past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on what’s the same and what’s changed since I last worked in the forest sector.
December 10, 2015 By Susan Yurkovich
For about a dozen years during the late 1990s and mid 2000s I worked for Canfor and as a consultant in the industry, so coming back to the forest sector feels like coming home. Many of the people I knew back then are still involved in the industry, while some have passed the torch on to the next generation of leadership. Many of the companies that were around 20 years ago are still around, but they’re doing new and innovative things with fibre recovery, advanced engineering and bio-products. The industry is now a blend of old and new, which speaks to its ability to adapt and re-invent itself in the face of change.
When I think back to the issues the industry was facing when I was vice-president at Canfor, that list included things such as industry competitiveness, the impacts on industry of policy and regulatory environments, decreasing fibre supply and increasing costs, the mountain pine beetle, the Softwood Lumber Agreement, First Nations land claims, environmental sustainability, industry consolidation, and the viability of a value-added industry. Today, many years later, many of these issues remain industry priorities. So I look forward to working on these issues with governments, communities, First Nations and partners in the months and years ahead.
But while some of the issues are the same and the industry members familiar, I also recognize there has been a lot of change – change that has helped the industry adapt to challenging circumstances. Here are just a couple of examples.
In 2000, B.C.’s lumber manufacturers were selling virtually nothing into China. Now we sell close to 29 per cent of our lumber volume there. Back then we were selling 83 per cent of our volume to the United States. Today, that number is closer to 53 per cent. The work the industry has done in partnership with Natural Resources Canada and the Government of British Columbia has helped open this important market to our wood products, helping diversify our customer base and reduce our reliance on a single marketplace.
In the B.C. Interior – which is where COFI’s members primarily operate – we’ve just come through the largest salvage operation in the history of this province. The mountain pine beetle has transformed the industry – from the way we harvest and truck, to manufacturing processes and safety, not to mention the profound impacts it has had on fibre supply.
I think the industry has come through the
disaster in pretty good shape, all things considered. We have learned to be nimble and innovative, we’ve diversified our product base and our markets, and found new approaches to doing business.
The past decade-and-a-half has been a time of change. Some of it good, some of it scary, most of it par for the course for those who have been around the industry for any length of time. But, throughout all of the change and upheaval of the past century, the forest industry has adapted. And, I am confident it will continue to do so in the years ahead.
Will it be business as usual? No.
But the forest industry in this province has always been the economic engine that could, and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe this industry had a bright future ahead.
Susan Yurkovich is the president and CEO of the Council of Forest Industries. She is also president of the BC Lumber Trade Council.
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