Uncertainty here and abroad clouds forest industry’s 2022 prospects

As we ring in 2022, B.C.’s forest product producers face ongoing uncertainty with renewed resolve.

Globally, we continue to tackle the biggest health and economic crisis of a generation and plan for what our economy and society are going to look like on the other side.

At the same time, expectations on important issues like climate change are ramping up. More consumers are rightfully demanding products that are good for the planet. Investors are backing companies that are embracing the importance of environmental, social, governance (ESG). And many of our biggest trading partners are driving towards net zero.

Geopolitical instability, protectionism and polarization are disrupting global markets and societies. Here at home, big shifts in forest policy direction are underway as the province advances a process of regulatory and legislative changes that, while well intentioned, are creating uncertainty for British Columbians who rely on a strong, sustainable forest sector.

Given these realities, it’s reasonable to wonder how a positive path forward for B.C.’s forest sector is possible – one that supports climate-friendly products for the world, healthy forests, Indigenous reconciliation and good jobs. But a bright future is possible, and our sector is ready to work in partnership with governments, Indigenous nations, communities and labour.

The forest sector continues to be a shining light – keeping people working and revenue to government flowing during the pandemic. Operators’ ability to safely get back up and running faster than consumer-facing sectors helped, as did unprecedented demand for lumber as people spent time doing projects at home. We continued to put paycheques into people’s pockets, supporting 100,000 jobs – from foresters and biologists in Quesnel and Nanaimo, to drone makers and mill workers in Vancouver and Surrey.

The sector provides an outsized contribution to government revenue – $4 billion annually – helping pay for hospitals, affordable housing and COVID relief. And we can grow that contribution as consumers increasingly look to sustainably produced, low-carbon forest products as the building and packaging material of choice.

So, this year, how can we leverage demand, the power of our people and our ESG leadership as the world looks to build back better?

First, we need a balanced approach to forest policy. We value B.C.’s conservation leadership. We also value B.C. forests for the jobs, recreational and cultural uses they represent – values that are managed for when harvest level decisions are made each year. That’s why we need a fact-based approach to policy modernization that’s informed by having everyone at the table.

Second, companies, whether big or small, primary or secondary manufacturers, new entrants or established players, all need predictable access to fibre at a reasonable cost. Clear rules and transparent, timely processes will encourage those looking to invest to plan for the future.

Third, we need to acknowledge forest products in all forms are tools to fight climate challenge. Products made from forest fibre are a better choice as they store carbon and reforestation ensures that cycle continues. B.C.’s mass-timber plan is a start, but other value-added opportunities are possible if supported by a healthy primary sector and investment climate.

Finally, partnership is key. We all want businesses to thrive, to ensure skilled workers can prosper, innovate and make products the world wants, to increase Indigenous participation in and benefits from the sector and to ensure sustainably managed forests continue to support British Columbians. Government, labour, Indigenous nations, communities and companies cannot do this alone. It requires coming together.

Our hope is that 2022 will be the year we double down on efforts to put B.C.’s forest sector on a positive path forward, ensuring it continues to contribute to a better province and a better planet. •

Susan Yurkovich is the president and CEO of the Council of Forest Industries.