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BC Forests Minister says lack of fibre supply continues to be a hot-button issue for industry leaders

“He’s very bullish on British Columbia.”

That’s from Forestry Minister Bruce Ralston regarding Canfor CEO Don Kayne who joined him on a recent five-day forestry sector mission in Japan.

This comes despite a very tough year for the sector in the north – this includes Canfor shutting down its pulp line at the PG Pulp and Paper Mill along with a six-month curtailment at its Polar Sawmill, just north of city limits.

The company also shut down its current facility in Houston for a few years along with a permanent curtailment of its Chetwynd operations.

In an interview, Ralston stated there was some good news for the region that came not that long ago.

“They committed to build a new mill in Houston, a 200 million dollar project so they are committed to British Columbia in the long run and they see the prospects in British Columbia forestry industry is very good.”

Ralston admits the industry is going through a period of change, which has been anything but smooth.

“Even though the transition for many has been a bit rocky and I don’t want to dismiss that but in the long run, I think we have a long and sustainable industry here in British Columbia.”

“Forestry is in transition and it’s historically been the backbone of British Columbia and will continue to be so.”

Fibre supply continues to be a hot-button issue in BC and Ralston noted the province is taking many steps in this facet including the collection of slash or residuals that would otherwise go to waste.

“That fibre and certainly there is a coalition of the pulp mills, they have set to find a couple of cubic meters of fibre in the last six to eight months and they have been successful. The industry is looking at sources of fibre that probably historically might not have looked at.”

“The other big addition is burned wood. Given the forest fire seasons we have had, I am pressuring the ministry to issue the appropriate permits to cut some of the burned wood. It is a commodity that gets rotten and stale pretty fast – so for those people and I sympathize with them if they have been laid off – any job is a good job especially when it supports you and your family. It is understandable as I have some empathy for that and those in that situation.”

Currently, Japan is B.C.’s highest-value and oldest market in Asia for forestry products – our province sold 1.45 billion dollars worth of products to the country last year.

During his visit, Ralston toured Port Plus in Yokohama, an 11-storey mass-timber building that became Japan’s first fully wooden and fire-resistant high rise in 2022.

When asked if the province can learn from Japan in making more fire-resistant structures, Ralston stated the construction philosophy there has shifted due to the changing demographics.

“What’s happening given the demographic shift there are fewer babies and the family formation is not quite at the same pace – so the opportunities there according to the people that help us, are for buildings of hospitals and long-term care, more institutional uses.”

“We haven’t penetrated that part of the Japanese market as we could so that is one of the focuses is to build that market for the future.”

“It’s a step forward for them. Recently here in British Columbia, our government announced that we are going to permit buildings up to 18 stories. We haven’t done that yet but we are in the process.”

2023 marked the 100th anniversary of B.C.’s timber trade relationship with Japan.

Ralston along with Premier David Eby will be attending the Natural Resources Forum in Prince George next month.

“I have always been a big booster of that conference. I will be there talking about the forest industry and the steps that we are taking to put the industry on a sustainable path for the future. The annual allowable cut is coming down just because of the fires and the mountain pine beetle and most of the beetle wood has been logged in the last 10 years or so.”

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