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New forest policy a ‘step in the right direction’

Brink Group of Companies owner John Brink fears secondary wood manufacturers will become 'collateral damage' in softwood lumber dispute. Bill Phillips photo
Brink Forest Products CEO and founder John Brink.

Victoria’s new vision for the forestry sector is a positive development for the industry, says a local mill owner.

“I believe it is a step in the right direction in terms of getting more people involved and adding more social and economic value to the resource and a new approach to forest policy,” said John Brink, CEO and founder of Brink Forest Products in Prince George.

The ‘intentions paper,’ released by province, focuses on three guiding principles: increased sector participation, enhanced stewardship and sustainability, and a strengthened social contract to give government more control over management of the sector.

The released intentions paper reinforces government’s other actions on forests, including the commitment to implement all recommendations coming out of the independent old growth review.

Additionally, the proposed changes to forestry policy will address the rapid decline of available timber and promote higher-value wood products like mass timber, which is good for secondary manufacturers like Brink Forest Products. The change will also offer more forest tenure opportunities for First Nations and smaller companies.

“What they have said is they would expand the Category 2 program which is aimed at those who do not have tenure,” Brink said. “At the end of the day, if you want to get more manufacturing by independents, the question becomes ‘where do we find the fibre?’ That is the critical component of it. Making tenure available to First Nations, that is no surprise and that is a good thing.”

He said Brink Forest Products, which has operated for more than 40 years without having a forest tenure, may look at a tenure if the opportunity arises. Brink, however, stresses that secondary manufacturers don’t operate in a vacuum.

“In order to have viable, sustainable secondary manufacturing, we need a healthy, competitive and robust primary industry,” he said. “There is opportunity for them to expand in Canada on working with secondary manufacturers.”

The key to the new policy, he said, is that it is an actual change and that it seems to be getting support from industry as well.

“As an association that represents many of the last remaining small and medium-sized independent specialty manufacturing facilities, the Interior Lumber Manufacturers’ Association has always advocated for a diverse industry that extracts the most value from our sustainably managed forests, and that provides for family supporting jobs,” said Dan Battistella, president.. This modernizing forest policy initiative announced today looks to redefine the future of our industry by moving to a more value focus with more community involvement. We are excited to work with government to ensure many positive outcomes are realized from this approach.”

Brink added that forest policy always has too look at the long term.

“We have to take a different look at forest policy that would create a sustainable resource and (ensure) that enough investment is made into the resource so that we maintain a renewable resource for the long term.”

The industry is in a transition, he added. While lumber prices are very high right now, softwood lumber duties will be increasing, as will stumpage, cutting into profits. In 2018-19, most major Interior forestry companies in B.C. announced curtailments at their sawmills due to lower lumber prices, reduced demand, high log costs, softwood lumber border tariffs and issues in accessing timber.

Though there has been a rebound in the industry and lumber prices are currently high, 20 lumber mills are in active, current or planned curtailment or closure status.

In addition, there have been 1,620 permanent, 420 temporary and 820 indefinite job losses in the forestry sector

“It all becomes a question of extracting more value from that log, in some fashion,” he said.

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