Forestry leaders will meet this Friday in Fredericton at a summit called by Premier David Alward. It’s the ideal time to take a look back on our rich history in forestry with a view to recognize our past successes, address our current challenges and, more importantly, chart our course for the future.
Forestry touches all New Brunswickers directly and indirectly. We are the most export-dependent province in Canada. New Brunswick’s forest products industry is more important to our province than car manufacturing is to Ontario. Forestry contributes 5% of our province’s GDP. More than 16,000 families in 40 communities are dependent on forestry jobs.
Jobs created by the forestry sector pay significantly higher wages above the provincial average. 85% of these jobs are in rural areas, contributing to the economic vitality of our smaller communities. They stimulate a $2 Billion sector and generate $175 million in direct taxes. No matter how you look at it, even in the most challenging of economic times, forestry plays a key role on the world stage and will continue to be the main driver of our export economy.
We all know that this recession has hit companies in our forest products industry hard. Half of all forest industry manufacturers have closed down or left New Brunswick along with more than 8,000 high-paying jobs. The US housing market has not yet recovered and the Canadian dollar remains high, both of which have negative impact on our exports to our largest customer. What’s more, energy costs continue to climb steadily without a credible plan to address this challenge facing all manufacturing sectors. We have all had enough of the bad news.
The good news is that our remaining forest products companies are committed to our province and have been working hard to find competitive ways to manufacture quality products for New Brunswickers and international markets. As we take our products to market we support other industries as well, such as trucking, roads, ports and rail.
The future is bright for forestry. Our companies have improved their operations as they seek efficiencies and better, more cost-effective ways of doing business. We have added more value to our products and diversified. Groupe Savoie in Saint-Quentin is now offering new bio-energy products such as pellets and briquettes made from sawdust residue. That company alone supports five hundred families in northern New Brunswick. Twin Rivers, formerly known as Fraser Paper, has invested $20 million at its Plaster Rock sawmill for a modern, energy-saving, wood fibre boiler that will allow them to reduce their oil consumption by 5 million gallons per year, a more efficient kiln for drying lumber and improved sawing equipment. AV Nackawic is now producing a dissolving pulp that is used in manufacturing rayon for the textile industry. You can now buy suits, ties, dresses and shirts made from New Brunswick trees.
The demand for forest products will only increase globally, and New Brunswick is in a great position to benefit from the emerging global marketplace. Our forests are the key to this potential growth. There is no disputing the fact that our sustainable forestry practices are good news for the future of our province. We continue to grow more wood than we harvest through internationally recognized forestry practices. With the right long-term vision and goals and ongoing environmental diligence, we can grow healthier forests that serve as the economic engine for our communities.
This meeting of minds needs to ensure a long-term forestry future and added responsibility and accountability for industry reinvestment and strong environmental performance.
We believe New Brunswick needs leadership that works with the tens of thousands of forestry workers, companies and communities. Government and its elected leaders can create the right environment for job creation and environmental sustainability.
We hope this summit will conclude with an agreement for greater use of wood in non-residential and public building construction. The New Brunswick Forest Products Association has released a strategy to work with the newly elected government to implement a Wood First policy. This compliments the new government’s commitment to increase silviculture funding -Silviculture is the action of planting trees and thinning forests to increase timber quantity and quality.
We hope that they commit to timber objectives that supply the current industry and allow for future growth. Planting more trees, improving timber quality and building sound, sustainable practices will ensure healthy forests and a strong economy for everyone.
Mark Arsenault, President and CEO