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The year that was and a look ahead, according to FPAC’s Derek Nighbor


January 3, 2020
By Derek Nighbor, FPAC

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An old-growth cedar forest during spring in British Columbia. Photo: Getty/twigymuleford

For forestry workers and communities, 2019 was a challenging year. Market headwinds, cost pressures, combined with the devastating fallout of pest and fire outbreaks, has put thousands out of work. Forestry communities across British Columbia have been hit especially hard, and our industry has been working hard to support the families and communities impacted.

At the same time and as we enter a new decade, Canadians are seized with the need to take real action to address the impacts of our changing climate, in a way that protects family-supporting jobs in communities that need them. Notwithstanding recent setbacks, Canada’s forest products sector is ready, willing and able to provide innovative solutions to some of our most pressing challenges.

Currently, our sector is working on a number of priorities that top the list of the Trudeau government’s agenda. These include fighting climate change, reducing our reliance on single-use plastics, strengthening opportunities for middle-class families and advancing smart conservation. In each of these areas, Canadian forestry and our forest products sector are uniquely able to make a real difference.

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The climate change–fighting power of forests and forest products is known the world over. Natural Resources Canada’s State of the Forests Report (2018) confirms that sustainably harvesting trees to turn them into long-lived carbon-storing wood products, and replanting younger seedlings, provides a carbon sink of 20 million tonnes.

Trees don’t live forever. Across Canada’s boreal forest, they only live for 80 to 100 years, at which time they are susceptible to pests, fire, or simply falling over. Healthy, young, regenerating forests pull more carbon per unit area than almost any other type of land cover.

On the products side, using wood in building construction to replace more carbon-intensive and environmentally harmful products like cement can help green our cities and towns. We can also take wood waste leftover at our sawmills and turn that into traditional and new products that people want and need, from toilet paper to bio-adhesives to bio-fuels.

This wood waste can also be used to make more sustainable packaging materials, as Canada develops a plan to reduce the use of single-use plastics. The ability to maximize utilization – or use every part of the tree – is just one of forestry’s contributions to the circular economy.

During the election campaign, Prime Minister Trudeau committed to conserving 25 percent of Canada’s lands by 2025. Canada’s forest sector is ready to be a solutions provider here too. Forestry in Canada is rooted in conservation. For starters, Canada’s working forest represents less than half of all forests in the country. Within this working forest, over 40 percent of it is currently under some kind of conservation measure.

This includes set-asides for wildlife habitat, buffers around streams and wetlands, and buffers around other areas with conservation value such as rare plants and ecosystems. In the drive to conserve 25 percent, how we account for conservation matters – and there is much to be counted within our working forest as we advance the national conservation agenda.

This brings us to job creation and sustained prosperity for the middle class. Today, Canada’s forest products sector contributes more than $73 billion to our economy and we employ more than 230,000 in over 600 communities. The transformation of the forest sector and breakthrough innovations are delivering significant economic opportunities for prosperity and family-supporting jobs.

Wages and benefits in the forest sector are among the highest and most competitive in the country. It’s also worth noting that about 70 percent of Indigenous communities are situated in or near forested areas and that the forest products industry is one of the largest employers of Indigenous people in Canada.

Canada’s forests and our careful management of this precious and renewable resource are a beacon for the rest of the world. Let’s make 2020 the year that we collectively embrace our natural advantage and use the power of Canada’s forestry workers to fight climate change, advance smart conservation, better leverage the green power of Canadian wood products and ensure prosperity for hard working Canadian families.

Derek Nighbor is the president of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC), which provides a voice for Canada’s wood, pulp and paper producers nationally and internationally.