British Columbia·Q&A

Grappling with pest problems, forestry sector seeks new markets

The Council of Forest Industries is holding their AGM in Kelowna this week, and president and CEO Susan Yurkovich spoke with Radio West about what the industry needs to maintain its importance to B.C.'s economy.

'Like many businesses, you're looking to diversify markets for your products,' says association president

Forestry has traditionally been an important part of B.C.'s economy. But with threats like pests and the end of a softwood lumber agreement with the U.S., is the industry facing trouble? (Getty Images)

The mountain pine beetle has had a huge impact on B.C.'s forest industry, but it's not the only issue facing the industry.

The Council of Forest Industries held its annual general meeting in Kelowna this week. One of the issues discussed was how the forestry industry can be competitive in the face of the pine beetle and other threats.

The conference winds up today, but before the conference began, Susan Yurkovich, president and CEO of the Council of Forest Industries spoke with Radio West host Audrey McKinnon.

What kind of shape is the forest industry in since the mountain pine beetle epidemic?

Certainly the mountain pine beetle epidemic has had an impact. Over the last couple of years, we had an uptick in our annual allowable cut in order to move some of that beetle-infested wood out. We are now coming back down to normal levels of harvest, so that is an adjustment for the industry and communities to go through.

Now the B.C. spruce beetle has grown in northern B.C. What have you learned from the pine beetle epidemic that you can apply to this new threat?

A pine-beetle damaged forest near Mt. Fraser by the B.C.-Alberta border. (Themightyquill, copyright cc-by-sa-3.0)
I think people can understand how getting onto a pest infestation early, attacking it early on, is something we need to be mindful of. I think everyone has learned from the mountain pine beetle epidemic that if you don't do that very early action it can spread very quickly, as pests do.

Your group works with all three levels of government in keeping a competitive advantage. What kinds of roadblocks have you met?

Every business faces challenges. We are working with the federal and provincial governments by looking for and expanding markets for our products. We've got a very successful partnership with Natural Resources Canada and the provincial government where they help, in partnership, to open markets for our products around the globe, particularly in Asian markets. In China, we've done a lot of work there to open up the market for B.C. forest products. Now we're looking for opportunities to move up the value chain, exploring opportunities in India. Those are really important partnerships that the industry benefits from. We absolutely couldn't do those on our own.

You've been focused on expanding the use of wood in construction overseas. Why is that instrumental in staying competitive right now?

Like many businesses, you're looking to diversify markets for your products. One of the things we've learned from the softwood lumber dispute is that being highly dependent on one market, if you're having an issue with that market, it makes it difficult. We still sell a lot of products into the U.S. but we've been successful in finding new markets and we continue to do that around the globe.

The 2006 Softwood Lumber Agreement expired last fall. Where do things stand with getting a new agreement now?

The prime minister and the president, during the state visit last month set out a calendar of about 100 days for officials to work together to make significant progress on that issue. I know the federal and provincial governments are actively engaged and have been working with their U.S. counterparts to explore issues and see if we can find a new way forward. That 100-day period will come up in about June, but there's lots of work to be done between now and then. Industry on both sides are looking to see if we can find an agreement.

With files from Radio West

Logs are piled up at West Fraser Timber in Quesnel, B.C., in this 2009 photo. B.C. ships much of its lumber to the U.S. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: B.C. forestry industry association talks about what sector needs to thrive


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