When the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council (APEC) released its report last week entitled Building Competitiveness in Atlantic Canada’s Forest Industries: A Strategy for Future Prosperity it reinforced the New Brunswick Forest Products Association’s position that forestry in New Brunswick is far from a sunset industry.
While the report delves into recent industry contraction, it is quick to acknowledge our forest sector still accounts for 16,500 employees in New Brunswick and recognizes that a number of our communities remain highly dependent on a vibrant forest industry for their economic wellbeing. We remain optimistic that a revived forest industry can, and will stem the recent rash of mill closures and resulting job losses with a clear understanding it will be a different forest industry landscape over the next few years. It will be a landscape where adapting to change becomes a global reality.
The APEC report serves as a call to action for both government and industry to identify and resolve a host of challenges, in order to get out in front of the anticipated global demand for our wood products. We need to ensure we are ready to take advantage of this turnaround, secure in the knowledge that we can, and do produce world-class forest products in New Brunswick.
The concept of establishing an Atlantic Forestry Industry Task Force, made up of industry officials and government agencies to identify and develop new markets, explore new value-added opportunities and tackle tax changes to stimulate sector growth is a formidable challenge, but one that must be initiated if our forest industry is to remain competitive. The past has shown that a healthy and vibrant forest industry benefits every New Brunswicker.
There are several recommendations in the APEC study that are immediately actionable, but few are all encompassing as setting clear goals for wood supply. In New Brunswick our industry depends on wood supply from three sources, Crown wood, private wood and imported wood. It’s here where we need to take a visionary approach and plan for adequate wood supply beyond 25 years, and it’s also where the role of New Brunswick’s private woodlot owners is crucial.
Recent investment in silviculture funding on private woodlots has been reduced at a time when we need to plan for, and grow more trees for the future. Private wood accounts for up to 30 percent of our wood supply and to ensure it remains intact we need more aggressive investment and counsel to ensure these woodlots remain productive in the future.
We also need to examine initiatives for harvesting Crown wood more efficiently, all the while ensuring we satisfy the three pillars of a vibrant forest industry – a healthy environment, sustainability, and a growing forest economy to support jobs and our communities. We are fortunate in New Brunswick because we have respected these principals of a successful forest industry in the past, and will continue in the future.
Our provincial government will soon release two anticipated reports on New Brunswick’s forest industry that we believe will result in a variety of recommendations to further chart a course for the forest sector. These reports will initiate a healthy dialogue on the direction we need to take in creating a new, stronger and more resilient forest industry.
It is important and critical to the process to become engaged in these discussions. Building a healthy forest industry is not an urban-rural issue – it is a New Brunswick issue. The forest industry is not just about the mill employee down the road, or the trucker, the forester, the accountant, the student, or the private woodlot owner. It is about more than growing trees, it is about growing our future. It is about a healthy environment, it is about growing our economy with solid employment opportunities and it is about renewing our commitment to sustainability.
There is every reason for optimism in the forest industry. New technology and new uses for wood fiber are creating global opportunities. The US housing crisis will come to an end, once again placing a high demand for our lumber products. We have a solid core of wood producers backed up by a dedicated and skilled workforce, living in communities that support and need a healthy forest sector. Now, more than ever before we need to stand tall for forestry and our communities making sure we’re prepared for the future.