As Canada’s lumber industry recovers, so do the challenges facing the lumber industry, especially in areas such as Quebec, New Brunswick and Ontario, where traditional markets have been cut off.
“This industry is not as healthy as it was 10 years ago,” says John Riehl, the vice-president of the Association of Canadian Wood Products (ACWP), which represents Canada’s big lumber manufacturers.
“We are really trying to make sure we’re doing everything we can to ensure that our industry is doing well, and that it is thriving.”
But the industry’s struggles are starting to show, and Canada’s forests are facing new challenges, says Riehlen.
The industry is losing its ability to adapt and diversify, he says.
“In the short term, you can be more focused on diversifying your business, rather than on one thing, and you’re better positioned to compete.”
One of the biggest threats to the industry is climate change, says Bob Anderson, an expert in forestry and the environment at the University of Alberta.
“Lumber demand is already declining in a global context, and if you look at the amount of energy it takes to get it to market, you need to look at how much that’s declining,” Anderson says.
The problem is, the industry doesn’t have enough capital to meet those challenges.
“So, if we have a very large amount of forest left to grow and harvest, then that means you’ve got to have a lot more capital invested to get that lumber to market,” Anderson adds.
“If you have more land to grow it and if that land has a lot of forest, then you’re going to be able to use that forest to grow lumber.”
While there are still some big players in the industry, like B.C.’s Timberland, Canada’s biggest lumber manufacturer, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the country’s biggest oil producer, and a growing number of large companies, including the world’s largest pulp and paper manufacturer, B.F.C. have all cut ties with the industry in recent years.
The CAPP is a major player in the lumber trade, but it’s also been working to diversify its business.
“There’s a growing concern around the future of the lumber business in Canada,” says Anderson.
“It’s very clear that the industry will be challenged in the long term, and there’s a lot we can do to help mitigate that.”
Riehr agrees that the growing threat to the lumber market is an issue that needs to be addressed.
“What’s important to remember is that Canada’s timber industry has had a good run for the last 40 years,” he says, “and we have seen our economy grow and diversified.
We’ve made some big investments in infrastructure, and we’re continuing to build that infrastructure, but that doesn’t mean that we’re going anywhere.”
The industry has seen some growth over the last few years, but the demand is still so high that it’s difficult to sustain the growth, says Anderson, “which is why it’s important for the industry to be prepared to continue investing in infrastructure and grow.”
The future of lumber production, however, isn’t certain.
“I don’t know that we have any clear plans right now, but I do think that the lumber industries future is going to look very different in the coming years,” Anderson notes.
“One of the things that I do know is that the world is changing, and it’s very difficult to anticipate.
But the thing is, it’s really important for us to get our ducks in a row, because we need to get the next wave of lumber to meet the demand.”
The Canadian Association for the Protection of Forests is one of the major stakeholders in the forestry industry.
It has worked for decades to develop the most effective forestry management practices and to protect Canada’s forestlands and forest products, says Andrew Stroud, a member of the association.
“While the lumber supply chain has been the most important element of our industry, it is now becoming clear that forestry products are increasingly important to Canada’s economy and to the economy of the world,” he explains.
“That’s why we have to be very cautious in our approach to forestry and make sure that we are ensuring that we keep up with the needs of the industry.”
The association has set up a task force to develop a strategic forestry strategy, and will also be reviewing the industry and working with stakeholders to better understand how to adapt to the changing landscape.
In the meantime, the CAPP and other stakeholders are working together to develop strategies to improve the quality of the wood and improve the sustainability of the production of wood products.
“The lumber industry is in a precarious situation,” says Stroud.
“And as we get better at protecting our forests, and as we become more competitive with other countries, it will be much easier for us as lumber companies to produce timber.”