PRINCE GEORGE, BC — If a tree falls in the forest will a trucker be there to haul it to the mill?
The forestry sector here is truly a polarized industry. When it’s good, all of B.C. benefits; but when it’s bad, the downturn is felt right across the province.
Its no secret B.C.’s logging industry is in a slump and is currently competing with central Canada’s manufacturing scene as the industry most in need of a turnaround.
The long-running softwood lumber dispute with our neighbors to the south put a big dent in forestry production a few years ago and any gains made from growth in Asia were offset by the market downturn in the U.S. As housing starts slowed down across the continent, demand for B.C. lumber was further slowed by a rising Canadian dollar.
All those economic issues led to mill closures and laid-off workers, which meant fewer logs needed to get hauled out of the bush, and a lot of trucks were left parked.
After talking with the folks at the B.C. Forest Safety Council (BCFSC) during a recent forestry show however, the mood around the industry is turning to “cautiously optimistic.” It’s not really a question of if the industry will turn around — because it always does — it’s becoming a question of will there be any drivers left when the turn-around comes.
PATCHING A SOLUTION:
Log hauling has always been a cyclical, seasonal, and somewhat transient occupation. But with loads now hard to come by, more and more log haulers are joining the highway game, or heading east and taking their off-highway rigs to Alberta’s oilpatch.
There’s been no definite indication economic conditions are on the verge of a positive correction in the near future and with many forest workers looking outside the province, it will take some creative planning to keep them local.
And that’s exactly what the province has in mind.
A bit of foreshadowing may have been the partnering of the recent ForestExpo in Prince George, B.C.
One of the major developments that was discussed is the bioenergy sector’s movement into B.C.’s forests. Provincial legislation was passed in May allowing for the creation of new bioenergy forest tenures. Bioenergy companies will now be able to harvest roadside waste, slash piles, and standing dead trees.
Rich Coleman, former B.C. Minister of Forest and Range, made a presentation during the conference and said since the timber licensees were not utilizing all of the forest, the government would.
There’s an estimated 700 million cubic meters of biofuel wood waiting to be harvested — enough for 20 years.
Full-blown bioenergy production may still be a little ways off, but there are more immediate plans to keep truckers inside of B.C.’s borders.
Oil companies have found an untapped resource in B.C. and the mineral rich province is selling off oil and gas rights in record numbers — reaching a year-to-date total of $693.9 million in mid-June. With a growing number of opportunities to use their off-road rigs in B.C.’s oilpatch, the province is hoping to keep log haulers local.
It may not be a solution for the cyclical or seasonal nature of the forest industry, but it may just be a solution to the transient nature of workers — and it’ll keep more iron in the area for when the trees do start falling again.
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