We live in a community carved by success based on the hard work and resourcefulness of the citizens. Since the tap root of our history these last 60 years is forestry, I thought you might be interested in some of the ideas I gleaned while attending the 2013 Council of Forest Industries (COFI) convention last week in Prince George.
The earliest lumber mills in the area were small two-to-ten mostly men operations scattered throughout the bush and reached by the most primitive of access roads. Yes, and to call the camps primitive would be an overstatement of the worst kind. I know. I’ve seen them and lived in them.
Most of us living in Chetwynd now do not remember the fatal Canfor fire that destroyed the only mill in town in the early 70s. That was a hard blow. But Canfor rebuilt and has reinvested millions in the plant over the years. When West Fraser moved to town, the local forest industry doubled in size and has remained the major employer until the present when mining took a slight edge on the employment figures.
But times are changing and with the times, the forest industry across the west is putting on a new look. According to the economists and analysts, forestry, as we know it, will peak in 2015. Lumber prices are rising and are predicted to top $500 per thousand board feet within the next couple of years. (Some analysts estimate prices to reach $600.)
British Columbia as a whole, thanks to the pine beetle, will experience a declining harvest of deteriorating quality wood. Here in the north east the beetles found less wood to their taste. Consequently, the volume of saw log timber is higher than it is in the interior. Even so, we are not immune to the changing nature of the forest industry – nor should we be.
The new face of forestry over the next couple of decades will reflect more attention paid to adding value to material that we formerly burned or left to turn to dust and CO2in the woods. The products that come most readily to mind are wood pellets and cogeneration, both of which are potential industries for Chetwynd. Cogeneration, using material that was formerly wasted will likely be feeding power to the grid within two years. The pellet plant has experienced a couple of bumps, most serious of which is the downturn in Europe. However, the proponents with whom I spoke at COFI are optimistic that these hurdles will be cleared.
Beyond cogen and pellets, the forest industry is rapidly moving into technologies that make even cogen and pellets look like a 1950s bush sawmill. Think: wood waste to biofuels; low-quality wood to high-tech cross-laminated construction beams for high-rise wood construction. In the near-to-middle future, it will increasingly be more with less; it will require a higher level of skill and education of many of the forestry workers. Prepare now to meet your future.
Merlin Nichols, Mayor