COFI issues long-term plan to renew forest industry

The BC Council of Forest Industries is calling on government and industry to pursue a series of "policy choices" to guide the sector through the current "perfect storm" of troubles and towards a viable future.

There are 60 in all and they come in the form of a report, entitled "Smart Future: A Path Forward for B.C.'s Forest Products Industry."

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"In addition to addressing today's challenges, many people are asking what the future holds for forestry in British Columbia, and where will we be once we have moved through this transition," COFI president Susan Yurkovich said in a statement.

"We believe that with the right choices, there is a bright future for the forest industry in B.C. That's why we are putting forward our ideas for a path forward - one that will help attract investment, secure jobs, deliver value and sustain economic benefits across the province.

"Some of these policy choices can be implemented by industry, others will require government action, and many will require collective effort from workers, communities, First Nations, academic institutions and all those involved in the sector to build the industry of the future."

The proposals are divided among five themes that include steps to "double down on market and product diversification."

On that note, authors suggest an export tax credit for products shipped to non-U.S. markets and increasing the proportion of value-added manufacturing in the province to at least 20 per cent within five years.

As it stands, about 30 per cent of B.C.'s wood products are now shipped to Asia, the authors note, adding that developing new markets requires perseverance.

"It takes years to develop product familiarity, codes, standards and market acceptance. But the benefits of these efforts has been significant for B.C."

And it will have to be pursued in the context of lower harvest levels and rising fibre costs, meaning "we need to continue to explore new ways to generate as much value as we can from the resource."

The plan also calls for securing a land base for harvesting. According to the report, 52.3 per cent of the province is covered by some form of conservation designation - from parks and protected areas to old growth management and wildlife conservation areas.

"A key choice, that would help build the confidence that draws investment into the province, would be to settle on the size of our working forest and lock it in," authors say. "This will allow companies and communities to plan a future that workers can count on."

Specific proposals on that theme include salvaging timber within two years of a wildfire and switching a portion of forest licenses from volume-based to area based "to encourage further investment by companies in intensive forest management."

The plan was issued Monday - the day before B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson announced a $69-million aid package for displaced forest workers. In an interview, Yurkovich said she welcomed the measures that include putting $40 million over two years toward an early-retirement bridging program for older forest workers.

Yurkovich called the step "entirely appropriate."

"We also have lots of work to do to train the next generation of forest workers because, ironically...within the next 10 years we have a demographic bubble," she said. "We have a lot of people moving through towards the age of retirement and we need to ready ourselves for the next generation of forest worker. And so we also need to be able to train attract highly-skilled workers to work in our facilities, and the industry is high-tech, so we need to bring in technology workers, accountants, sales and marketing people, logistics people and we need to attract the next generation of forest worker as well."

The bridging program is contingent on employers chipping in on a cost-sharing basis.

Opposition forests critic John Rustad, the B.C. Liberal MLA for Nechako Lakes, questioned the proviso given lumber producers are losing money.

But Yurkovich said COFI is "happy for any support" for the sector.

"Industry can't afford to do everything on its own because we're already facing very significant financial challenges and complex markets. We're paying 20.23-per-cent duties, our log costs are climbing to the point where you're seeing the curtailments because with markets where they are and fibre costs where they are, operations are uneconomic."

The full report is posted with this story at

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