Monday, September 17, 2012

BC 2013 Tree Planting Forecast at 260 Million Trees

The number of trees planted in BC in 2013 is expected to rise, according to the WSCA ( Western Silvicultural Contractors Association).


Planting 2013 forecasted as one of the largest since mid 90s.

Using the latest sowing request (SPAR) data for planting in 2013the WSCA is forecasting one of the largest seasons in years. Next year could see nearly 260 million seedlings planted - up from 237 million this year according to SPAR. The 2013 estimate is based on the number of seedlings already sown, combined with the historical trends for summer planting stock orders. Those 2013 summer planting requests are just now coming in, but over the last few years the Interior summer plant sowing has been around 40 million seedlings annually. Sowing requests for summer planting have also been increasing over the last few years along with the provincial total. If that trend is consistent, we could see an annual total approaching 260 million, the third largest since 1997. The other big years were 2006 and 2007; just before the crash hit the sector with planting ebbing as low as 165 million by 2010. 

With the spring planting numbers confirmed, the trends by region show the Northern Interior to be the prime beneficiary, increasing from 71 million to 82 million next spring. The Coast region is seeing a three million increase to 20 million seedlings for the spring. The South Interior is the only depressed trenddropping slightly from 102 million seedlings to 98 million next spring. Summer planting this year in those regions came in for the Coast at 8 million including this fall, the North Interior at 25 million, and the South Interior at around 12 million. 

Will there be enough planters?

The pair of big years in the last decade produced the only upward blip in rates paid to workers. Other than the short-lived 2007 five percent up-tick, piece rates continued their decline into 2011. This extends a discouraging downward trend of about 33 percent along with inflation since 2000. Figures for rates for 2012 are not available, but last year's 2011 exit poll asked workers to report their earnings per day. Besides the fact that the majority of the workers said they were underemployed needing up to another month of work, the figures reported showed half the industry's planters are earning less than $22 per hour for at least a ten hour work day. This places them at the very bottom for earnings in the resource sector. If there were planters working as United Steel workers, they would earn around $23 for an eight hour day and much lower production expectations. Mining wages start around $28.00 hour and the oil & gas sector begins around $35.00 per hour.

The WSCA is just now developing a human resource strategy for the silviculture sector thanks to government support through the Labour Market Partnership Program and the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, but it will be another year before that process can begin to reliably report out on the trends affecting our workforce. It will take just as long to come up with a recruitment and retention strategy for the sector, as well as guidelines and best practices for individual firms. Nevertheless, the anecdotal evidence suggests that getting the job done in 2012 pretty much tapped out the provincial planting capacity. There were no extra planters and in some cases there weren't enough. What may have saved the sector from wider default was the weather and the extension that added a couple of weeks to the spring plant into late June and early July. If we have reached peak capacity now, much depends on what the jet stream serves up next year, an El NiƱo year. Much also depends on whether workers think they are being treated well and paid what its worth to do actual hard work for a living. With the uncertainty around those two factors, there is a risk of a capacity crunch in 2013. 

Do the survey.

The volunteer working group in charge of developing a human resource strategy for the silviculture sector has sent out its annual survey for workers and employers. Please circulate the survey to your employees and urge them to answer the confidential poll. We also want to gauge the mood of the employers in the sector too and have added a special section. You can help by getting yourself and your workers to go to

The results of the survey will be made available after this year.   
Please help us spread the word by circulating this email to as many people as possible, including other contractors, coworkers, employees, suppliers, any other interested parties, etc.   

Western Silvicultural Contractors' Association
#720 - 999 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC   V5Z 1K5
Tel: (604) 736-8660      Fax: (604) 738-4080


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lumber Prices Expected to Rise in 2013 and 2014

Just out today, a news release with a forecast of higher lumber prices due to a rise in US housing starts.  

Good news for Canadians working in the forest industry, and their families who depend on those jobs.

MONTREAL - North American lumber prices are set to increase further in the coming couple of years as the U.S. housing market continues to strengthen from years of weakness, a new CIBC report predicts.
Spot prices for Western SPF softwood lumber made from spruce, pine and fir trees have steadily increased this year, rising 24 per cent since January to US $310 per thousand board feet in August.
That's nearly 41 per cent higher than the US $220 price set two years ago, when the U.S. house-building industry was still suffering from years of over-heated construction activity and a collapse in the mortgage lending industry.
Analyst Mark Kennedy says the futures market is suggesting lumber prices will soften over the next two to three months before strengthening early next year as the fundamentals of the U.S. market improve despite some recent mixed signals.
U.S. home building slipped in July after a strong improvement in June, but new permits rose to their highest level in four years.
Housing starts in the United States decreased 1.1 per cent from June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 746,000. However, new construction was up 21.5 per cent from a year ago and permits were 29.5 per cent higher.
The increases came as inventories of unsold new homes in the United States hit a 50-year low, home prices appear to have bottomed, and housing affordability is near a record high due to low interest rates.
Kennedy estimates that U.S. housing starts will reach 900,000 next year and just over one million in 2014.
At that level, he estimates lumbers price will reach about US $340 per thousand board feet by the first quarter. The price should average above US $400 if starts reach 1.4 million units per year.
That's good news for lumber producers in Canada that export to the United States and workers who have faced several years of challenges, Kennedy said.
Among the companies expected to benefit are Canfor Corp. (TSX:CFP), West Fraser Timber Co. (TSX:WFT), International Forest Products Ltd. (TSX:IFP.A), Conifex Timber Inc. (TSXV:CFF) and Western Forest Products Inc. (TSX:WEF), he wrote in a report.
Canada has shipped some 4.5 billion board feet of lumber to the U.S. in the first half of the year, up 6.5 per cent from the same period in 2011.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Remembering Julia James - Tree Planter 1982 - 2003

Just received this email and thought I'd share it with my readers.  


From: John Betts, Executive Director
Western Silvicultural Contractors' Association

Re: Colin James address to the silviculture industry February 2004

It has been nine years since 21-year-old tree planter Julia James died when the truck she was riding in crashed into Tibbles Lake near Quesnel on May 20th, 2003. The following year her father, Colin James, spoke to contractors at the WSCA Annual Conference in Victoria. He spoke of the profound loss he and his family were experiencing and his struggle to make something good come of this tragedy. Colin James had visited the crew and site where Julia died soon after the crash. A working man himself he quickly understood the conditions in camp and the culture of the industry. And it is those insights that he generously offered to all silviculture employers and workers in his talk: particularly around the industry's culture, the need for mentors, the treatment of young workers and the need for the sector to reflect on how it operates.

Since 2004 only half of the contractors in business then are still contracting. It is likely that the majority of the workforce has changed as well. Most of the silviculture sector may have no recollection of Julia James' death or her father's address to the WSCA contractors. For those who were present and have been involved in improving safety and working conditions in the industry Colin James' address was a turning point in this industry's history. On this anniversary of Julia's death I have been asked by some contractors to distribute Colin James' address. To read it today is as meaningful and moving as it was back in 2004. Please share this with your crews and your friends and reflect on what we all might do as an industry to avoid the loss of people like Julia.

In closing I should say that since Julia's death sadly others have died in truck crashes and the workplace. it is likely that the campaign to make the silviculture industry safer will not be won in a decisive victory over time and circumstances. It will more likely to be won in the continuing of our efforts. It is with that in mind that I am sending this on. 

Thank you.

John Betts
Executive Director
Western Silvicultural Contractors' Association
#720 - 999 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC
V5Z 1K5
Tel: (604) 736-8660
Fax: (604) 738-4080


Message to Silviculture employers and workers from Colin James

Address to Western Silvicultural Contractors' Association Annual Conference and Trade Show Victoria B.C. 4 February 2004.

My name is Colin James and I am a family man. I've been a carpenter for thirty three years, I was a telecommunications technician for six years, for the rest I was a kid like most other kids growing up in England, being made to go to school, but dreaming about soccer. It doesn't much matter what I do in my life though, when all is said and done, I am a family man. I don't just love and take joy in my family, I love and take joy in your family. I love watching young parents as they help their kids dress for baseball and show them how to hold a bat, or watching them tying up the laces of their little skaters or hockey players. I love watching young families pour out of the car at the soccer field, kids running every which way - parents left to carry bags and equipment. I love to see mothers and fathers holding the hands of their skipping, pulling and yanking children as they fare get dragged across a car park into the Dairy Queen. And I love those early morning scenes at the job site when the car pulls up with a couple inside, especially when it's a young couple, and they may be grinning or joking and you watch them kiss as the wife or girlfriend drops her partner off for work. You don't watch in a voyeuristic way, just catch a glimpse and smile to yourself and remember when. It's no different than when the kids were little and you dropped them at school, grabbing at packs, lunch pails and coats, stealing a kiss, opening the door and tumbling out, all in what seemed like one fluid motion. All of these pleasures have been mine, and that's what I want to talk about today.

I had two daughters: Jenny who is 24, and Julia who was closing in on 21. Julia was an art student at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary. No, wait a minute: Julia was a young artist and a musician who was going to art college, she was a poet as well, she had been a wonderful athlete, and she loved to snow board. But it didn't much matter what Julia did, when all was said and done, she was a family girl.

I went out to Calgary to visit Julia at the end of March last year (2003). Julia had just secured a job with Blue Collar Silviculture for the summer. She was nearing the end of her best school experience for many, many years. Whereas she had felt trepidation when enrolling for her second year at college, there was no hesitation about going for a third year. Also she had spent the summer of 2002 travelling in Central America and she knew she wanted to do more. So she was excited about her new job, she saw tree planting (without ever having done it) as the perfect way to make some money to pay her way through school and hopefully fund a trip somewhere. We went shopping together, found rain gear, thermal underwear, a good thermos, a tent, all those things she might need. It was wonderful to see her so excited, so optimistic. We even went to second hand book stores and picked up a whole summer's worth of reading. In between I went to a couple of her lectures at the college and "sat in". There's a time in every child's life when holding your hand in public or kissing you when you drop them off somewhere just isn't cool. It doesn't mean they don't love you or that they don't want to kiss you or hold your hand, it's just that they can't. I was glad that time had passed. It was pure joy to walk down the halls of her college, Jewels laughing and smiling at her friends, her fellow students, her professors, she holding my hand, greeting them and introducing me. To gaze in awe at her work in the studios and on the walls, to see her ideas, her vision and those of her friends all around me was truly uplifting and inspiring. We played frisbee in Riley Park and we talked, oh how we talked. I kissed her goodbye at the airport and flew out of Calgary with what seemed like all of her enthusiasm, her optimism and her excitement having rubbed off on me. I kissed her goodbye the same way I would have done had I dropped her off to begin a days work planting trees at Tibbles Lake and I left with a smile, already looking forward to seeing her again, soon, when I would undoubtedly hear of all that had happened and how her days had gone. Hear of what she had learned, what she had achieved, what she had earned, what she had gained and what she had lost.

Many years ago Peter Poklinton, the then owner of the Edmonton Eskimos, ran into financial problems and figured his best way out of his predicament was to sell his most valuable asset and raise enough cash to salvage his empire. His most valuable asset was Wayne Gretski. Mr. Gretski, who until that time had played his entire professional life in Edmonton, was asked by the media what he thought of the decision to sell him to the Los Angeles team. He said "My owner, Mr. Poklinton ...." and I didn't catch what else he said. I was stuck, stuck on those opening words: "My owner". His owner: it didn't sit right with me. How can one person own another. There have been times in history where people have felt they could own other people. These have been dispicable times and dispicable blots on our culture and our history. No, when we employ someone, we do not own them. When we employ someone we have struck a deal, we have agreed to an exchange, to trade their time, their energy, their talent, their skill, for money. We have borrowed them. They have been lent to us by those that love them, not their owners, for no one can own another. They have been lent to us by wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and lovers and we must return them.

I, my wife Linde, my eldest daughter Jenny, and hundreds of people who knew and loved Julia, lent her to Blue Collar Silviculture. I kissed her goodbye at the Calgary airport and never saw Julia alive again. On May the 21st, 2003, Linde, Jenny and I flew to Quesnel after having been told Julia had been in a tragic accident and had died. We arrived in Quesnel our hearts in shreds, clinging to each other like candles burning down, feeling like our legs would give way, our muscles not responding. I feared we would become 'just some puddles, some incomprehensible puddle of melted wax. We weren't allowed to see Julia, we were told she was "the property of the coroner". My little girl was "the property of the coroner". At two in the morning of the 22nd of May, now over 27 hours after Julia had died we could stand it no longer, we forced our way into the hospital morgue. This next part is taken from a victim impact statement written by my daughter Jenny. "She was lying in a black bag in a freezing cold morgue. Her wet clothes clinging to her frigid body, her little hands clenched in her sleeves. I was too scared to look at her hands, too scared to hold them because she was so cold and I didn't know why her hands were hidden. I didn't know what I might see. Her eyes, her beautiful big brown eyes, they wouldn't quite close and I wanted to close them for her but I couldn't. There was nothing I could do for her. They took her away and they performed an autopsy. Do you know what it's like to think of someone cutting into your sister? Opening up her lungs, taking her blood. And we weren't even supposed to touch her - our own flesh and blood - because she is the property of the coroner and evidence in a criminal investigation. My sister is evidence in a criminal investigation. She was 20 years old and to me she was still my baby and I couldn't help her. I couldn't hold her, I couldn't wash the dirt off her face." So you see, it's not just employers that sometimes forget that they do not own those they employ. Governments and officialdom make that same mistake too.

All of you here today have heard about my daughter's death, some through the industry grapevine, some officially and some perhaps only from newspaper accounts. I don't want to revisit the accounts as reported in the various media, they got it woefully wrong in almost all cases, but I would like to correct those reports and put the record straight. Nearly all accounts placed Julia in a truck returning to camp after being on a drinking binge on their day off. The truck ran off the road and plunged into Tibbles Lake and Julia, unable to get out of the truck, drowned. The truth is that Julia spent no time with the other two people in that accident that day.

Adam Kahtava was another rookie tree planter: he, together with his friend Frank, had arrived in camp on May 10th, just 10 days before the accident. Frank had decided to give up on tree planting and needed a ride into town along with his possessions. As Julia was going to town in her van, and was going alone, they asked if they could go with her and she gladly accepted the company. The three of them arrived in town around noon and took Frank directly to the Greyhound bus station. From there Julia and Adam began the usual "day off" rituals of going to the Rec Centre for a swim and a shower. Then they did laundry, bought a new batch of gloves, and called family and friends from the pay phone.

While doing all this, Adam says they enjoyed talking to each other about religion, family, school, travelling, relationships and tree planting. On their way out of town, they stopped at the River Rock Pub as the tree planters would all meet there before heading back to camp. Julia had a couple of beer and played a few games of pool. Adam didn't drink at all, so Julia asked him to drive (and I quote from Adam's account: "Not because she had drunk too much, but because she was responsible and aware of the consequences of drinking and driving".) The two of them left the pub just after nine. In Adam's own words: "On the way back to camp we listened to music and had many good conversations." They arrived back in camp around 10:00 p.m.. Does that sound like a drinking binge to you?

As you all well know, the crummies (in this case a Ford Excursion) act as a parlour, a living room, a place where the planters can gather out of the weather, put a C.D. in the player, and relax and visit with each other. You've got to admit a Ford Excursion is a step up from a "pup tent", and that is how Julia ended up in the truck. Sitting in the back, other planters coming and going, listening to tunes and enjoying a beer and each other's company. Just before 11:00 p.m. someone who had been drinking and had been on a binge got in the Excursion, not to listen to music, but decided to start the truck and took off. As soon as the ignition was switched on all the doors automatically locked and Julia couldn't get out. Minutes later, they were in the lake with Julia trapped inside. That is where she died.

Now 8 months later - one beautiful, incredible, human being is dead. A family is shattered. A young man who valiantly dived in frozen waters three times, desperately trying to save her, lies awake at night unable to sleep. Another young man has been sentenced to 4 years in a Federal penitentiary. There is more that happened that day that needs to be talked about, and there is much that did not happen that day that needs to be talked about.

I have already told you that I have been a carpenter for over 33 years. I have worked in almost every sector of the construction industry. I have worked in heavy industrial construction, some of which has been done in remote worksites. I have worked in highrise office tower complexes, historical restoration of heritage buildings, and I have worked in residential. I have spent most of my life working with light and heavy equipment, both equally dangerous. I have worked around hazardous materials, and on projects with extremely dangerous components to them. I have worked on my tools and I have worked in a supervisory capacity. And as such, I feel qualified to discuss with you today, the subject of "Safety in the Workplace". For several years I worked the "annual maintenance shutdown" at the McMillan Bloedell Sawmill in Chemainus. Every year that shutdown began with a safety meeting which included a talk by Neil Burmeister, the mechanical superintendant at the Mill, and every year his talk would include the statement: "Tragic accidents do not happen when one thing goes wrong, when one thing gets overlooked, when one thing gets missed. Tragedy strikes when all the ducks are lined up." There are those that might think that Julia died because one other person made a huge mistake, made a terrible and impaired choice. Trevor Wishart did all of that, and now he languishes, potentially for the next four years in a Federal penitentiary. But Trevor was only one of the ducks in a line that day.

Let us talk about some of those other ducks. When Linde, Jenny and I went out to the Tibbles Lake camp to visit the site of her death and pick up her belongings, as we approached the camp and could see the planters milling around, Linde stopped suddenly, put her hand to her mouth to stiffle a gasp, and sobbing she exclaimed: "Oh my God, they are all like Julia." It was a camp full of young people, people just like our Jewels. People on the threshold of their lives. People full of enthusiasm, full of energy and exuberance. What coach, when putting together what he hopes will be a winning team, would weight it so heavily with youth. Where were the "elders", where were the mentors, where were the old hands who could counsel and guide these young people in more than just the requirements of their work. As the young planters arrived back at camp, some obviously very impaired, some just tired and anxious for a good night's sleep - as the activities of some began to infringe on others - as the humm of impending disaster grew, where were those that ran the camp in an official capacity? Where were those who, just from experience, could have a calming influence? When accepting fees from campers the company is, to all intents and purposes, the "operator" of that camp, and as such has a responsibility for the camp and the safety of those in it. This particular site, on the shores of Tibbles Lake, had six kayaks: what would have happened had those that were impaired decided to go out in the kayaks in their condition. What would be the result if when only half the crew emerged from their tents in the morning and did not respond to the sound of the crummie's horn, but out on the water overturned kayaks could be seen bobbing like corks. It is irresponsible to allow the drinking of alcohol and for it to go unchecked and unmonitored. When putting together crews for any project, it is imperative that consideration be given to "balance", to "leadership". A team leader must be able to garner respect, inspire and motivate, and he must be able to create a sense of "team" which is another word for "family": in a family, we look out for each other. There was nobody looking out for Julia that night and, frankly, there was nobody looking out for Trevor that night.

There have been many times over the years, when the people on my crews have had to dig deep. In the old days, on "shutdowns", 18 and 20 hour shifts were common place. Sometimes it's as simple as knowing the weather is bitter, it is wet, cold and miserable, but like it or not the job has to be done, there is no 7th Cavalry going to crest the hill and the weather is not going away, and the day is going to be a long one. So best get at it and get it over with. Everyone has left the trailer in the same mind, everyone has known what they must do and together we pull it off. What better way to say "thanks" at the end of such a day than with a case of beer and maybe a pizza: you can cover a lot of miles with a case of beer. But to hand out the beer, say "thank you" and then walk away with a "see you on the next one" or "see you tomorrow", is criminally negligent. When you give out alcohol as a "management tool", as a "thank you" or just as "the glue that binds", you have a responsibility to every person present that you will get them home safely and you have a responsibility to their families and the general public.

Companies obviously know there is potential for not just small accidents, but very serious emergencies. There are rules and regulations around the providing of "first aid" in any industrial setting. The further from a hospital or emergency services you are, the more first aid facilities you must supply or provide. And when you are at a remote site you are responsible to provide vehicles to transport victims and or patients to an emergency facility. That is why the crummies were left strategically placed around the site with the keys in them. The trouble was, there was no thought given to who will be awake, aware, cognisant, sober and able to take control in an emergency situation, and who would be in any shape to respond and drive in an emergency situation. There were no precautions taken to prevent someone who shouldn't drive the vehicle from making the disastrous decision like those that Trevor made that night. And there was no one able to stop him after he'd made them.

On all remote worksites that I have worked on, one of the first things we do is create an emergency response team. You will be amazed at the pools of talent found in any body of workmen (this is another reason for designing your crews with balance in mind). You will often as not find someone who has been, or is, a volunteer fireman (this often means they have a first responder's ticket). You may find someone who has been a member of a search and rescue team or been on a ski patrol. You may have a Ranger Scout, or someone with rock climbing ability, maybe someone who has been a lifeguard at a pool, or someone who is a member of St. John's Ambulance. Once you have put together your team, you hold weekly meetings to discuss and go over your preparedness, to talk and problem solve and try to imagine and plan for possible scenarios. To set up mock accidents in which you can get the entire crew involved. I know people who have been in the same volunteer fire department for 30 years and they still go to practice every week. If you do not practice emergency response you will never be able to deal with one. The night Julia died, three people left the safety of the shore, waded out into those frozen waters to try to save Julia. As soon as they got to where the water was up to their chests they had trouble breathing. One person got beyond that point and dived. He dived three times. Each time, those on the shore - because of the experience of the others that could not breath when in the water - must have been aware there was a danger, a possibility that each time Matty dived he may not come up. If he hadn't, two people would have died that night, for not only was there no equipment or means to rescue Julia, there would have been no way to rescue Matty. That night Matty, armed with nothing but his courage, tried to save Julia. Outside of that no attemps were made, no ideas were put forward, no plans put into action, no problem solving embarked upon. Not one person who I have talked to in my line of work about this has been able to understand this fact. A hundred yards from the accident site is a heavy equipment machine shed. On the shores of the lake in the campsite were six kayaks. There were numerous company vehicles equipped for "off road" (4 x 4's with lift kits). Nearly everyone can see why it was so hard to get Julia out of the truck under the water, but no one can understand why that vehicle was not literally ripped out of the water in a respectable time.

It is not sufficient for any company to go into a remote area equipped with a box of bandaids, some q-tips, some iodine, a stretcher and an eyewash. That camp was on the shore of an ice cold lake, consisted of dozens of pup tents and small cars sitting among standing timber in various stages of health. One tree could easily, in a wind storm or due to thunder and lightening, come down across six tents. How would you get people out from under such a tree? When we established an emergency response team we put together an "emergency response kit". It would consist of a gangbox and in it would be a good ready to go chainsaw with a sharp chain fully gassed up, a hydraulic heavy duty jack, a large pry bar, a "come along" and a "turfer", a snatch block, a cable, halogen lights and a generator, a cutting torch and oxygen and aceteline bottles. This is not necessarily what you would require in your industry, but you need to design a kit that will enable you to respond to scenarios you may be faced with. It should definitely be mandatory that all company vehicles have a winch attached to them. How different things might be today, if that first company vehicle to arrive at the scene had had a winch.

When I begin a job, for every job, I complete a hazard analysis and I write up a "safe work plan". I list all dangers my crew may encounter, toxic chemicals, gases, caustic or carcinogenic materials and products. I talk about the dangers created by the different weather conditions we may face, and how they may further impact our job. I list all safety equipment, including the crews' personal safety equipment, that we will employ and we will discuss its correct use. I will identify the closest shower and eyewash station, review all phone numbers and contacts in case of an emergency, and where the closest phones can be found from where they will be working. Each crew member has to be taken through that safe work plan, they must sign it to show they understand it and, as long as that job is ongoing, that plan is reviewed as part of a tool box safety meeting at the beginning of every shift. Those phone numbers are posted at different spots around our site so they become as well known as 911.

Your crews need to know where the closest farmer is from their camp, where the nearest logging operation can be found and how they can be reached. They need to know the closest gas or service station, or any other place they may be able to find help, whether that help be human or mechanical.

When the crew gathers together, whether to mobilize or for lunch, at any time, "take two": take two minutes to just remind them of one safety issue, quiz them about just one of the emergency numbers they can call, reward them when they show they have committed these to memory. Give out a ball cap with your company name, award a hackey sack, it's just a dollar or two, and it could mean the difference between life and death.

I would like to touch on culture in your industry. Culture is a broad and comprehensive subject. It is like our blood, we have red cells and white cells and we must keep them in balance. We also have good bacteria and bad bacteria, and again balance is everything. There are facets to the tree planting culture that are admirable and it is, without doubt, these things that draw so many young people to your industry, and have done so for succeeding generations of planters. But culture should not be static. We inherit the previous practices of our industry and accept them without questioning them even when they are inappropriate, or the industry has outgrown them. It is not until tragedy strikes that we shine a spotlight on our culture. Well, tragedy has struck, and in the last 10 years it has struck 13 other times. This is unbelievable and unacceptable. Back in the late sixties your industry was born, those people that planted back in those early years, they are your elders: where are they today. They are not around anymore, in part because the job is being reduced to not much better than a paltry wage. It is also a brutal industry, it is incredibly hard work. I know what that is like, I work in an industry myself that is hard, it is physically hard and physically demanding. So that there is often an imbalance with more young people out there. The old people, some hang in there, some get jobs in hardware stores. So because tree planting is so brutally hard, and there are very few old timers left, you have to find other elders, you have to find elders who aren't old. You have to find those qualities that an elder has, you have to recognize those qualities in the young people that return. They could be 30, 32, 34 or they could be 40. They don't have to be old and grey and bespectacled, like me.

You need to promote these qualities, you need to nurture these qualities. You need to recognize them and you need to reward them. It is important that you keep these people with you. It is important that you don't lose these poeple from your industry. It is important that every year you do not get a completely new crop of people, that you don't get a camp just full of people like my Julia. So that there is somebody there to look out for them; that there is somebody there to mentor them; that there is somebody there that just has some degree of maturity, who can recognize and see impending disaster.

All across this country, if you listen to the news, you'll hear that in Vancouver Indo Canadian elders are gathering together, banding themselves into small groups and organizations. They are trying to figure out a way they can solve a terrible problem. Their problem is their young people: they are getting into trouble and they are dying. In the North, Inuit and Indigenous elders are struggling with the terrible reality that they are losing almost an entire generation to suicide and substance abuse. In the inner city slums and ghettos, young poeple are being lost to the violence of gangs and drugs. All across this country elders are gathering to try to find a way out of this crisis.

It doesn't matter what group of people you are. Elders have a responsibility. You people here today are the elders of your industry. I can see people around here the same age as me, but there are many of you that are a lot younger than me, you are still the elders. And it is for you to gather. For you to get together, to talk about these things and to find solutions. Because one death is too many.

I've talked to people in your industry and I know that back in the '70's there was an opportunity to earn more money than you can earn today, and you work just as hard today. I know that the business is competitive and I know that you have to fight for those jobs. You have to sharpen your pencils. You have to be very conscious of your bottom line. But there are places to save money. It doesn't have to be on the backs of the workers or at the expense of safety. Let's face it, a Ford Excursion is rather a deluxe crummie.

If you need to pay your young people who return year after year a little bit more because they have qualities such as leadership, maturity, and responsibility; pay them a little more. Keep them coming back, don't lose them from your industry, don't turn tree planting into the "McDonald's" of the resource/forest industry. Don't turn it into a minimum wage job where there is no sense of self-worth. The kids that I have talked to, they love what they do. They love the feeling that they get from being out there in the bush and doing something that they consider worthwhile -something that feeds and nurtures them. Keep them coming back, don't lose them. Don't end up with one branch manager and hundreds of kids like McDonald's. Keep them coming back and keep them alive.

Thank you,

Colin James

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Another BC Sawmill Explosion - Pine Beetle Related?

It is really unfortunate to see another BC sawmill explosion just months from a previous one.  In the latest Prince George incident, two workers died and over 20 were injured.

The problem seems to be narrowing down to a build up of sawdust from dead pine trees.  After pine are killed by mountain pine beetle, the stems are left standing in the woods and begin to lose their moisture content.  By the time the stems arrive at mills (possibly years later), the wood can be tinder dry.  I've heard a few people comment on other 'close calls' where timber has caught on fire during the work progress.

When the timber is cut at the mill, sawdust particles are released into the air.  With large volumes of timber cut on a daily basis, this dust can add up as it settles throughout the workplace.  If nothing is done, this can become a fire and explosion hazard as we now know.

Awareness is now very high on this problem, and I heard on the radio that WorkSafe BC plans to do more mill inspections in BC to check for this very issue.

One of the articles on the sawmill explosion is linked to below.  The end of the article has information for donating to fund for the victims of the explosion.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Sad Tale of Sino-Forest Corp

Did you know that Canada's once largest forest company (by dollar value) didn't even have any woodland operations in Canada?

Near it's peak, the company was worth around $6 Billion and its shares traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Sino-Forest Corp operated mainly in China and owned/operated woodlands in that country.  The promise of China's growing economy and the advantage of operating within it pushed the company's shares to higher highs.

However, the story proved too good to be true, and a report by investing company Muddy Waters found many holes in the Sino-Forest story.  Presently, the company is under fraud allegations and bankruptcy protection, with creditors owed $1.8 Billion (not to mention losses sustained by shareholders).

It was once Canada’s largest publicly traded forestry firm, but less than a year after Sino-Forest Corp. was first rocked by fraud allegations, the company is insolvent and has been forced to seek bankruptcy protection from creditors and put itself up for sale.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Canadian Wood Products Manufacturers Combine Efforts

Competition from China and other countries is forcing Canadian makers of wood products to combine efforts.

Although exports of lumber to China and other countries with growing economies have greatly helped Canadian lumber manufacturers, if you make value-added wood products in Canada (e.g.: furniture, flooring, doors) then you likely face fierce competition from international companies.

Recently, some of these Canadian manufacturers have been meeting to share ways to market, increase productivity, reduce waste, and improve products.  By sharing each other's secrets and processes, everyone benefits.

In years past – tumultuous years, given the surge of competition from China and the soaring Canadian currency – these small and medium-sized makers of furniture, flooring, doors and cabinets viewed each other as direct competitors. Now, 30 business owners gather every few months in small boardrooms to share ideas.

To read the full article, click below:


Sunday, March 11, 2012

BC Timber Inventory a Guessing Game?

I don't envy those whose job it is to conduct timber inventories and calculate annual allowable cuts on large tracts of land, such as a Forest District or Region.  There are so many variables to consider on the amount of sustainable cut a land base can bear.

For starters, you need accurate areas of all your forest cover polygons.  You need to take out non-productive areas (e.g.: rock, brush), roads, water bodies, private land, etc.  You need to consider the effects of forest health issues, such as mountain pine beetle and hemlock looper.  One large outbreak could throw everything off.  And even if all that data is accurate, you still need to estimate how much the trees are growing every year, and what is being cut.  I have no doubt there are sophisticated models and equations to do this, but how accurate can they really be?

If the calculations are not accurate, more timber could be annually harvested than is sustainable.  At some point there will be a falldown, and mills that depend on a certain amount of timber won't be able to find it.  Conversely, if less timber is cut every year than is sustainable, this could lower economic productivity and reduce the number of potential jobs and revenues that could have been achieved.  The problem is that it takes time to find out if you are over or under, and by then the impacts are being felt.

Timber inventories are especially critical in the central Interior of BC where there have been massive losses to pine stands from mountain pine beetle.  There will no doubt be lower annual cuts coming in those areas, but is there an accurate current inventory available?

The article linked to at the bottom of this post discusses this issue.  No doubt there is more effort required by the government to calculate our forest inventories.

A third of the government’s inventory of timber lands is at least 17 years out of date, the Ministry of Forests confirms. That makes it impossible to accurately establish the so-called falldown – the point at which mills in the B.C. Interior start to run out of logs after processing today’s pine-beetle-killed timber.

But the government is expecting a precipitous drop in timber supply in the Interior, according to Ministry of Forests data dated Dec. 31. The “mid-term timber supply” data shows the volume of trees to be harvested dropping by roughly a third over the next two decades.

To read the full article, click below:


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rayon - The Rising Forestry Fabric?

If you are in the forestry business, you may also be in the fashion business and not know it.

Forest products are often thought of as lumber and paper, and beyond that the list gets thin.  Fortress Paper has been betting that the production of rayon, a fabric used to make clothing, will be another successful forest product.  They have bought another old mill in Quebec and will change it's production to dissolving pulp in order to make rayon.  The process is different than producing pulp for paper, but with some investment it can be done.

Though rayon may not be a huge market now in forestry, it's always great to see another use for wood fibre.  Any time another product can be produced from wood fibre, it helps the forest industry and creates a demand for the available timber resource.  To see a mill that's been shut down for 6 years have a new life is a great story for the town in Quebec where it's happening.

The rayon market is seeing an increase because cotton crops and production haven't been able to meet all the demand in recent times.  Rayon material also has different properties than cotton.  It doesn't retain heat as well as cotton does, but this is a good feature to have in warmer climates, which is where many emerging markets in Asia, the Middle East and South America happen to be.


Fortress Paper Ltd. plans to transform yet another old Quebec forest-products mill into a facility that makes pulp used in the production of rayon instead of paper.

The old Domtar mill has been shut for more than six years and is now to get a new lease on life by producing dissolving pulp used in the manufacture of rayon, a product that has been in huge demand especially in Asia.

The project is the second such endeavour by Mr. Wasilenkoff in Quebec, after the transformation two years ago of a mothballed hardwood pulp mill in Thurso to pulp-for-rayon.

To read the full news, click below:

Foretress Paper Rayon Pulp Mill


Monday, February 13, 2012

Pulp maker Fibrek bought by Mercer International

This news caught my eye because Mercer International operates a pulp mill in Castlegar BC, close to where I live.  They also have two mills in Germany, and it looks like they are now ready to expand.  Fibrek, the company they seek to acquire, has three mills in Quebec, West Virginia and Michigan.

Another interesting aspect of this deal is that there was another competing bid for Fibrek valued at $130 Million.  Mercer's offer provides a significant premium at $170 Million.  The pulp business to me is a difficult one, it's very capital intensive but this also acts as a barrier to competition.  For Mercer to build three new pulp mills would have cost a lot more in time and money than their bid to buy Fibrek, so for them I think it will be a good deal.  Especially since they are already very experienced in the pulp market.  This deal is also a sign that the future might be good for pulp, since companies in this industry are looking to expand.

Mercer International isn't a household name, but they are important to the Castlegar and Kootenay areas of BC for the mill and forestry jobs they provide or create, and the taxes they pay to local government.  To see Mercer in a position to expand and grow is a good sign for the people in these areas.


Pulp producer Fibrek Inc. says it has struck a friendly $170 million deal to be acquired by Vancouver-based Mercer International Inc.

Mercer Inc. operates in the pulp business and produces market northern bleached softwood kraft, or 'NBSK', pulp for export around the world. The company employs nearly 1,500 people and has a mill in British Columbia's interior, and two in eastern Germany.

Mercer president and chief executive Jimmy Lee welcomed the deal and said it benefits both pulp makers, their customers employees and shareholders.

"The acquisition of Fibrek clearly fits within our strategy of focusing on world-class production assets that produce high quality pulp," Lee said in a release.

"Additionally, the ability of Fibrek's St. Felicien mill to produce and sell surplus renewable energy is in line with our goal of increasing our revenues from energy sales."

To read the full news release, click below:

Mercer International buys Fibrek Inc


Sunday, February 12, 2012

China-Canada Green Building Design Center

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently untook a trade mission to China.  Part of the mission involved forest products and lumber.  China is one of Canada's most important customers for wood products, and according to the release below Canada is now the largest supplier of lumber to China. 

Initiatives like the China Canada Green Building Design Center highlight wood frame construction, which still isn't widely used in China.  If the use of wood in construction continues to grow in China, Canadian lumber mills should benefit along with the jobs they bring.  The bottom of the release has some interesting stats on exports to China for 2009, 2010 and 2011.  I wonder what kind of year 2012 will be?

PMO press release:

Langfang, China
Feb 9, 2012
Prime Minister Stephen Harper today visited the China-Canada Green Building Design Center – one of China’s largest wood frame buildings – to highlight Canada’s achievement as China’s largest supplier of lumber. “Our Government is committed to helping the Canadian forestry industry to diversify and succeed in priority markets around the world. With Canadian lumber exports to China at a record high, our efforts are paying off, creating jobs and economic opportunities for Canadians,” said Prime Minister Harper. “The China-Canada Green Building Design Center is just one of the ways Canada is promoting its world class environmentally-friendly wood frame technologies and materials in this rapidly growing market.”

The Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia, in partnership with Canadian lumber suppliers, are working with several countries to further promote Canadian wood frame technology by developing building codes, training designers and builders to use wood and educating institutions on the benefits of building with wood.

Thanks to their versatility and environmental benefits, wood frame construction, such as that used for the Green Building Design Center, has become more prominent throughout China and has led to a major boost in Chinese demand for Canadian wood and wood frame technology. As a result, 18 Canadian mills have reopened or dedicated part of their production to servicing the Chinese market.

The China-Canada Green Building Design Center is a 2,500 square-meter facility which features environmentally friendly, seismically stable, and energy efficient Canadian wood frame technologies and materials.

Canadian wood exports to China grew to $835 million in 2010, up 119 percent from 2009. During the first eleven months of 2011, wood products were Canada's third largest export to China, totalling $1.36 billion and expected to exceed $1.5 billion in 2011.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

What Caused the Burns Lake Sawmill Explosion?

I was on the road last weekend when I heard about the explosion at the Burns Lake sawmill that killed two people and injured 19 more.  It was surprising because you don't often hear about explosions at sawmills, and most mills have good safety practices that try to minimize the number of accidents.

The destruction of this mill will also have a big effect on the employment situation in the area.  Small towns with lumber mills are usually heavily reliant on the jobs the mills provide.  I've heard that the rebuilding of the mill isn't certain due to the reduced timber supply in the area from mountain pine beetle attack.  Even if they do decide to rebuild, it would take about a year and a half to construct.  In the meantime, workers dependent on this mill have to switch employers or possibly leave town to find work, which is hard on family life.  The question of rebuilding the mill will have to involve the owners, government and employees working together to create a viable operation.

There is still speculation on what caused the explostion, but the most popular theory seems to be a build up of sawdust in the air that was somehow ignited.  The wood that was being processed by the mill was dry, dead pine, and many people have commented on how high the dust levels were in weeks leading up to the accident.  It was actually pointed out as a safety hazard for inhalation.  If a build up of sawdust was the cause, similar mills should take note and ensure dust particles don't reach such dangerous levels.

For recent information on the Burns Lake sawmill accident, visit:



Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lumber Sales to China Slowing?

I meant to post about this in December, but it was just too busy and I had to spend a little time finding the right article.

The Globe and Mail reported in December that BC lumber sales to China were slowing down as late as October. If you read the article carefully, it appears that shipments are still near all time highs, they are just not growing as much as they have been year over year. The main reason for this is that China's real estate market has been slowing, and lumber inventories are high. According to the article, things may improve in the spring, but it will depend on how China's economy is doing.

The US is still a major customer of BC lumber, and the forecast is that lumber shipments may keep improving over the next three years.

In a nutshell, while there may not be a lot of growth happening in lumber shipments, China is still taking a lot more lumber than they used to and the US is still the biggest customer.

According to Statistics Canada data compiled by BC Stats, October was the sixth-biggest sales month for B.C. foresters in China but, at $89-million, the figure was only 8 per cent higher than a year ago. While shipments remain near an all-time peak, growth may not re-emerge until spring.

Wood Markets International, a Vancouver industry consultant, predicted on Wednesday that U.S. lumber demand and prices would “rise slowly” in 2012, gain “momentum” in 2013, and that “price surges” would start in 2014, propelled by strong demand as the U.S. and China chase tight supply.

Click below to read the full article, there are many interesting details in it:
Lumber sales to China