Around 70 delegates from across the B.C. forestry sector convened in Quesnel last week to discuss the future of the industry. Melanie Law photo

Cariboo Think Tank calls for ‘forest resiliency’ to keep sector viable

Delegates at Future of Forestry Think Tank agree industry needs to transition

Quesnel’s Future of Forestry Think Tank last week (May 3-4) saw policy makers from local, provincial and First Nation governments, industry experts, funding agencies and researchers convene at the city’s College of New Caledonia campus to discuss opportunities for the forestry industry.

The two-day think tank had around 70 delegates in attendance, including the Honourable Doug Donaldson from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development.

The facilitator, Fraser Basin Council, organized the delegates into groups so that each had representatives from government, funding agencies, First Nations, research bodies and industry, to allow for the best possible discussion on topics.

“Those conversations then got people talking together who wouldn’t normally aggregate at other conferences – you are cross pollinating with ideas. Then if an idea comes up, you’ll have some people from government saying, ‘Here are some legislative issues;’ or industry could say, ‘We tried that once before.’

“The feedback we got after each round was that they felt they could dig in a little bit deeper,” says Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson, one of the community leaders of the event.

The idea of the Think Tank came out of recovery efforts after the wildfires and mountain pine beetle epidemic, and the need to transition Quesnel’s economic focus, as a forest-dependent community.

Minister Donaldson agrees that Quesnel, with its wealth of manufacturing facilities, is well-positioned to act as an incubator to develop ideas around the forestry industry, which can later be applied at a provincial level, if successful.

“We know there are challenges ahead with the reduced fibre availability after the mountain pine beetle and the wildfire impacts, so these are the topics we’ve been putting a lot of thought into in our first nine months in government, and the Think Tank is going to advance those thoughts,” says Donaldson.

READ MORE: Quesnel hosts Future of Forestry Think Tank

The bigger picture

Simpson says one of the main ideas that came out of the discussion sessions was the idea of considering a forest as a whole, rather than as distinct “stands” of trees that have commercial value, as the industry currently looks at forests.

“Right now we manage the forests as individual stands. No one is looking at the forest as a whole, within which you are managing the individual stands,” explains Simpson.

Simpson says after the first day of the Think Tank, many of the delegates agreed the industry needs to shift to that landscape-level of planning.

Quesnel Timber Supply Area, which has a boundary west of the Fraser River, was identified as an area for research.

“Everyone agrees there’s very little commercial activity left out there, so it would make a perfect opportunity to look at that as a whole land base and say, ‘How do we reach a whole variety of objectives, including timber – but first and foremost, making sure that what we are getting is a healthy, adaptable, resilient forest ecosystem,’” says Simpson.

“The lesson we have all learned is that if you are not managing for that, you lose both the forest and the timber.”

Implementation

Simpson says there was talk during the Think Tank of convening a table of experts and stakeholders to spearhead the land base project in the Quesnel Timber Supply Area, but he says there is training needed to proceed.

“We are good at documenting what the challenges are, but we are not good at planning and managing a forest to be resilient against pests and disease and fire,” he says.

“We need to look at what the skill set needs to be for that table, and that’s where UNBC and CNC can develop programs to provide the knowledge base for that. And then we need to work with the minister and his staff to figure out what policy tools are needed to plan at that level, because the current way we permit activity in the forest doesn’t lend itself to that.”

The Fraser Basin Council has been tasked with writing up a report on the ideas that came out of the Think Tank, and Simpson says they are hoping to move quickly on the land base idea. The draft report will be finished within 10 days, and Simpson says he is hoping to have it before Minister Donaldson before the legislative session finishes at the end of May.

Manufacturing

Simpson says there were also plenty of innovative ideas on the manufacturing side of the forestry sector.

Presenter Dr. Guido Wimmers from UNBC explained how the global construction industry is moving towards homes made of engineered wood products, which allow buildings to be constructed in a matter of days.

“North America is going to go there, so we have to look at how the industry is going to evolve,” says Simpson.

“There are a whole range of opportunities, it’s just a matter of creativity and the partnerships to make them happen.”

Simpson says for manufacturers to make a transition, they need opportunities to begin to create products in different ways.

“We are looking at where the lever points are to make change happen. Could we attract a modular home manufacturer here? And then because they are here, and need those products from our mills, that could be the trigger to get them to do the transformation, because they’ve got that customer base,” he explains.

A successful session

Overall, Simpson says the Think Tank session was a success.

“The sense was that Quesnel presents an opportunity to do some ground-level thinking and pilots, and that the government could then look at the provincial implications of going in those directions,” he says.

“The very last conversations on Friday afternoon had people still fully engaged, and the feedback we got was that people are hopeful that we can pull something off.”

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