Energy production a key to forestry revitalization
COMMENT: Minister Pat Bell: "I think it is a great window for us to jump through." What is this - suicide forestry?
That's some forestry revitalization strategy - burning trees. BC's version of tropical rainforest devastation. Everywhere trees are coming down for energy production. Bio-this, bio-that - it's all biocide. It does nothing for forests, exacerbates greenhouse gas production (don't kid yourself, burning a tree or combusting soya or cane or corn vegetation is just as much a release of a carbon sink as burning a fossil fuel. We have to stop burning things, folks.), and none of it creates a sustainable economy, let alone ecology. We're smart, no question about it, but still nature understands best how to create a sustainable ecology.
Bell's Ministry has 25 people in China selling BC's timber? Hello! And the dollar return on that is?
By Aaron Orlando
Forests and Range Minister Pat Bell was on a tour of rural communities in the region last week, including Revelstoke, Nakusp, Castlegar and Nelson. He says he’s looking for ways to reinvigorate the forest industry during the tour and is discussing his proposed four key points for a forestry revitalization.
Bell spoke to members of the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce and other forestry stakeholders at a luncheon meeting at the Powder Springs Inn on Jan. 5.
Bell, who worked in the harvesting business in the 1990s, says he feels Revelstoke is an example of a community where forestry works. “I do come to this industry with some background and some knowledge and a lot of enthusiasm for what the forest industry can be throughout British Columbia and I think Revelstoke is a great example of something that has worked well in B.C., whether it’s Downie Timber, the Revelstoke Community Forest or the great Ministry of Forests team that we have here in Revelstoke. We’ve all worked well together to present an industry that’s integrated, that works well with recreation backcountry tourism operators and really has been the core and the heart of the community,” he said, adding that it was a model he’d like to see replicated in other communities in the province. “I really think it has been the community engagement that’s done it,” he adds.
Bell says the current market conditions will remain a challenge in the foreseeable future. “I don’t expect that the American market is coming back anytime soon,” he says.
This situation has been a reality under which he’s worked to come up with plans to guide the forest industry into the future.
He then went on to present four key points he’s been working on to guide the transition.
Getting more value out of our forests
“For a long time we’ve looked at our forest stands as a commodity product, as a product that we bring in and create a product quickly, simply and sell it into a market. And we’re price takers, we’re not price makers. We just simply take the product and flog it into a marketplace that may or may not want it,” he says, going on to say this needs to change.
Revelstoke has bucked that trend to some extent, says Bell. It is a model that we need to replicate around the province. “We need to extract more value from each and every log.” He says this extends beyond harvested logs to include what we leave behind in the bush.
During his career in the 1990s his company focused on extracting maximum value from each piece of wood that they touched and sought to take in everything possible. “So I think we need to be far more focused on full utilization of the resource within the principles of good ecosystem management. Clearly there is a role for course woody debris on the forest floor. It’s an important thing for many of our species to live under and create habitat for them, but let’s not use that as an excuse to leave behind significant components of residual material, not fully utilizing the resource.”
Bell says that there are policy barriers that reinforce the status quo that he’s looking to change. For example, harvesters bringing in less desirable materials can have it deducted against an annual allowable cut. “Our staff are looking right now at all the different policies that we have in place to remove those barriers and encourage full utilization.”
The ministry is piloting a lump-sum sales model through BC Timber Sales in which block lots are sold at a fixed price, rather than per cubic metre harvested. “What we’re trying to do is get you to take full value off of that site, whether it be for for wood or post and rail or for grinding it up into pellets or for utilizing in the energy system here in Revelstoke or whatever it has to be.” Maximizing the value for the parcel of land is the goal.
He says the pulp industry in B.C. developed during the 1950s and ‘60s due to efforts to better utilize waste products from dimensional lumber production.
Bell feels we’re in exactly the same situation today. This time around the new products will include energy, pellets, bio-fuels, bio-diesel, bio-ethanol and bio-refining.
He calls these products the “third leg of the forestry stool” when added to the other two legs: dimensional lumber as well as pulp and paper. He extends the metaphor by saying having three legs creates a far more stable base.
Managing silviculture better
Bell says we need to invest in the land base in a better way, reasoning that better silviculture practices can greatly increase the yield from the same plot of land.
Currently, we aren’t focusing enough on the possibilities in silviculture, says Bell. The common practice now is to do the bare minimum to meet legal requirements, but not much more.
A ministry of forests staff team is currently working on plans to reform the silviculture system The goal will be to focus on growing trees in general, not just making boards out of the trees that you grow. “It’s not something that we’ve ever had to turn our minds to, and I’m very excited about this opportunity. I think it is a great window for us to jump through,” says Bell, adding that all of the advanced silviculture jobs will be in rural B.C., which will in turn drive rural economies.
Focusing on China
Bell feels the Chinese market is a huge opportunity. He says the government has focused on introducing a wooden truss system to be used on existing leaky Chinese concrete buildings and has started installing them on houses in Shanghai.
He says in the past we’ve focused on marketing single family homes in China -- a strategy he feels wasn’t successful because they are not suitable due to density issues. “The market in China, I don’t think is the one that we have been chasing. The one we have been chasing is the idea of single family homes. I think we need to build components for their existing structures. I think if the Chinese get used to seeing wood on a regular basis, eventually it will become their product of choice and they will build their entire buildings out of wood as well,” adding it will be a step by step process.
The Chinese market potential is about 1.6 billion board feet per year, which equals about 10 per cent of B.C.’s annual output of about 14 billion board feet per year during a high year. Bell says the roofing market is only a start, saying there is room to move on other construction components. The ministry has 25 full-time staff in China now actively marketing products, in addition to about 15 people from private companies doing the same.
Large commercial wood buildings
Bell says the only real competitor in the institutional building market are buildings made of steel and concrete and that there are lots of opportunity in the sector. Wooden buildings have a much smaller carbon footprint, which is a key marketing tool.
As an example, Bell says the Heather Park Middle School in Prince George, which is located in his riding of Price George North, was made of wood.
Bell makes the pitch that wood buildings have far less of a carbon footprint because carbon is created during the production of steel and concrete, whereas wood is in effect sequestered carbon and remains so for the life of the building.
Using the example of the middle school he says building with wood instead of concrete reduced the amount of carbon released during construction by the equivalent of 10,620 cars being operated for a full year.
He says regardless of your personal beliefs surrounding global warming, this is a great marketing tool and gives the example of the Olympic Skating Oval in Richmond as an aesthetically pleasing example of what can be done with wood.
Bell feels that 2009 will be a key year for the industry and that the B.C. industry needs to face challenges head on -- including making tough decisions. “Whenever you are faced with challenging times, as we are today, you need to be prepared to make unpopular decisions because they will establish the right framework for long-term success, and those mean big shifts,” says Bell.
He describes a bright new future for forestry that will come with the development of renewable energy and fuels. “But it won’t be without pain,” he adds.