A more competitive and diverse forest sector is expected to result from the updated Forests Act that went into effect on May 1.
Bill 40 is the first major revision to the Forests Act in 50 years and aims to cut red tape, provide greater flexibility in harvesting operations, and maintain existing forest management practices.
This flexibility will allow forest companies to quickly respond to major events that would heavily impact their harvest, explains Brock Mulligan, vice-president of communications and government affairs for the Alberta Forest Product Association (AFPA).
"We have events, like fire and pest infestations, that really throw a kick into plans that mean companies either need to harvest an area more quickly because pests are moving in, or have to divert harvest from an area because something like a fire has altered those plans."
"Having that flexibility built into the act is really important and helps support jobs in our industry."
He believes the industry can build upon its strong primary manufacturing base to offer more value-added forest products.
"There's a chance to take that to the next level, and to look at innovative wood products that we could be making here. Once you're making that next-generation level of wood products, that then lends itself to other opportunities."
He says because less time will be spent on red tape, more time can be focused upon exploring these new opportunities.
Changes to the act also address the use of fibre.
"Some of these changes to the act talk a little bit about how we use residual fibre, which is one way to make more products out of existing areas that are harvested. That's another important change. It's really quite a technical change, but at the operational level it's quite important."
"Our industry has always been focused on how we can get the maximum value out of the resource. It's the responsible thing to do economically because it provides the most jobs. It's the responsible thing to do environmentally because when you're harvesting the resource it's really important to our customers and to Albertans that we're making the most out of it. Finally, it's important to the province as a whole because being efficient as you can has the biggest economic impact."
The act formalizes the setting of timber dues in a more timely fashion so that the fees forestry companies pay the government in exchange for being allowed to cut down trees on Crown land better reflect current market and industry costs.
Mulligan says it closes a loophole in arguments presented by American companies in softwood lumber agreement disputes. He says the dues actually are already updated monthly.
"That wasn't spelled up clearly in the act, and so that's now been changed to close off a loophole that could potentially be used to argue against us."
The AFPA believes in the free trade of wood products between Canada and the US, instead of the managed trade system now in place that has lead to ongoing softwood lumber disputes.
Mulligan says what the revised act doesn't reduce is the level of consultation with Albertans and their commitment to properly manage forests.
"Ultimately, we're a renewal resource industry, and it doesn't make sense to us if we can't grow back our resource."
The preamble added to the Forest Acts recognizes the importance of forests to Alberta's environment and its economy.
"Economically, we have 40,000 jobs that depend on our forest industry, and I think that we've seen as a lot of other segments of our economy have struggled that those jobs are really valuable and that they've really helped communities like Cochrane through a time when things are a bit tough out there."
"The Forests Act preamble also recognizes that our forest standards in Alberta, and the way we care for water and wildlife that go along with our forests, is world-leading."
The act also acknowledges the threat from climate change, specifically pointing to an increase in the risk of wildfires and pests infestations.
The forest sector is the third largest sector in the province, and these changes come at a time when North America is experiencing record demand for wood products.
People across North America have been taking on major renovation projects during the pandemic. Also because of the pandemic, some major American sawmills have been forced to temporarily close. Furthermore, B.C. forests have been devastated by the mountain pine beetle.
"All of these things are creating a real supply crunch at a time when you have a huge demand for lumber and other building products."
Although separate initiatives, the Forests Act amendments, and the Forest Jobs Action Plan both support the Kenney Government's platform to create jobs and a sustainable economy.
It calls for maintaining long-term access to a sustainable and secure fibre supply. That includes a 13 per cent increase in the Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) by awarding unallocated timber rights.
It also calls for:
- Ensuring a more expedient return of wildfire burned areas to productive forests;
- Utilizing residual fibre and lumber waste for value-added opportunities;
- Promoting the use of superior naturally-occurring seedlings that can grow faster; and
- Restructuring forest management plans with foresters to better allocate timber by reiterating to companies that they can harvest difficult areas with proper planning, By doing so, it would essentially increase the area available for production.
Just today, the Alberta Government announced the awarding of 72,000 cubic metres of annual allowable cut to Norbord Inc. and Bigstone Cree Nation through an open, competitive process.