Alberta plans to increase harvest of forest products as high prices boost yields
CALGARY – An effort to increase Alberta’s forest harvest as timber prices hover at record highs allows members of a Northern First Nation to become resource owners as well as timber harvesting contractors, says the Bigstone Chief Cree Nat
CALGARY – An effort to increase Alberta’s forest harvest as timber prices hover at record highs allows members of a Northern First Nation to become resource owners as well as timber harvesting contractors, says the Chief of the Cree Nation of Bigstone.
The country’s logging company, Bigstone Forestry Inc., was formed with help from Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries Inc. many years ago to help supply its pulp mill near Athabasca with logs. from its forest management area.
In early May, the First Nation won its own slice of Alberta forest. He now has the right to harvest 21,000 cubic meters of coniferous timber per year from previously unallocated Crown land in a remote area about 300 kilometers north of Edmonton.
“First Nations have been accused of always asking for documents. We don’t play that kind of game. We try to do the best, ”Chief Silas Yellowknee said in an interview.
An unexpected boom in demand for forest products driven by strong housing and home improvement markets is pushing the Government of Alberta’s treasury into cash.
In the recently completed 2020-2021 fiscal year, the province harvested stumpage fees – which are adjusted monthly based on current prices – of approximately $ 350 million, more than triple the $ 99 million earned in the past. previous year and seven times the $ 51 million of 2015-16.
Meanwhile, the royalty paid by industry for forest improvement activities has increased to $ 160 million thanks to the high prices, from $ 19 million in 2019-20 and a paltry $ 2.7 million in 2015-2016.
The contribution to Alberta’s coffers is eclipsed by that of oil, gas and coal, but it helps close the gap when these non-renewable resources are insufficient, as they did in the past fiscal year, passing from $ 5.9 billion to about $ 2 billion. the previous year.
When oil prices rise, Alberta produces more oil, but forest products do not, as most of Alberta’s sustainable annual harvest has already been allocated.
At the Spray Lake sawmills in Cochrane, just northwest of Calgary, the company is harvesting the maximum allowed under its provincial permits, said Ed Kulcsar, vice president of woodlands.
He recalls the global recession that forced Spray Lakes to go from two shifts to one from 2010 to 2013, and the shock of the first COVID-19 lockdowns a year ago that temporarily wiped out the forest products market and resulted in closing the business for one month.
“We are grateful for the good prices today, but we are still aware that the lumber market is very cyclical and can go down at any time,” he said. “Some people say that the big remedy for high timber prices is high timber prices.”
Grande Prairie is a small town in northwestern Alberta that serves as a hub for oil and gas, agriculture and forestry, with an oriented strand board (OSB) plant, a paper and two sawmills.
“By balancing the ebb and flow of different economies, seeing the growth of forestry has really been a positive light and a point of discussion in our community,” said Mayor Jackie Clayton, noting that forestry employs around 2,300 people, supports more than 160 related businesses and represents $ 900 million in local exports per year.
Norbord Inc., owner of the OSB plant, was the second recipient of provincial timber harvest rights earlier this month, earning 51,000 cubic meters per year of unallocated timber in an area approximately 70 kilometers away. northwest of Grande Prairie.
In a transaction driven in part by high prices for construction products, Norbord became a division of West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. In February in exchange for $ 4 billion in stock, leaving West Fraser as Alberta’s largest forestry company with 15 facilities in 13 communities and about 2,500 direct employees.
A West Fraser spokeswoman said the province’s new wood supply “will support the capital investments already made at the Grande Prairie OSB plant,” with no immediate plans to increase production.
Alberta Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen said he asked his ministry early in his current term to re-examine the province’s forest resources “as a true environmentalist” to find ways to use their premium more efficiently.
“They analyzed the numbers and said that an increase of about 33% over the annual allowable cut is something we could harvest sustainably and make sure we take preventative measures such as fire protection. forest and pest control, ”he said in an interview.
Now he is looking for ways to increase the annual crop by 20%. 100 more, after increasing it by 13%. 100 over the past year through relocations including allocations to Bigstone Cree and Norbord.
The province’s efforts have been criticized by the Alberta Wilderness Association as potentially damaging the forest, and by the Grand Chief of Treaty 8 First Nations for lack of consultation with Indigenous people.
But Chief Yellowknee says he’s confident his part of the forest will thrive now that his nation owns the resources.
“That way, it being ours, he’ll be treated in the right way. That’s how we view him.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 30, 2021.
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Dan Healing, The Canadian Press