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Silva21 and Quesnel's future of forestry think tank

Dernière mise à jour : 8 juin 2023

The Quesnel and Area Future of Forestry Think Tank held on May 2-3, 2023, was an exciting event that brought together representatives of the forestry industry to discuss the future of forestry in BC. As the scientific coordinator of Silva21, I was there to represent the ongoing research projects surrounding adaptive silviculture in Canada’s changing climate. and contribute to discussions on behalf of Silva21's large-scale collaborative efforts across the country. This includes research in the fields of adaptive silviculture, remote sensing sensing, forest inventory, dendrochronology and growth and yield modelling. And of course for climate change projections and impacts on future forests - my role as a postdoctoral fellow at UBC.

Attendees from the University of British Columbia
Attendees from the University of British Columbia, from left to right: Dominik Roeser, Sabrina St-Onge, Amy Wotherspoon, Dane Pedersen and Shannon Hagerman

The Future of Forestry Think Tank (FFTT) event was hosted by the City of Quesnel and the Three Rivers Community Forest. It is part of the Forestry Initiatives Program (run by Erin Robinson) which was created to address the challenges faced by the city and to protect the community from wildfire. The FFTT has a clear vision of making the City of Quesnel and the surrounding area a hub of innovation in forest and land management, manufacturing of forest products, and workforce development. The event revisited past recommendations and progress from the first and second events that took place in 2018 and 2019 respectively. After a hiatus due to COVID, the Think Tank event was back with the objectives to align with new government policies, and identify opportunities for collaboration, investment, and action.

A huge thank you to Erin Robinson for the invitation to attend and organizing such a great event and to Mike Simpson who did an excellent job facilitating.

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Tuesday, May 2nd, 2023

Topic #1: Land management policy today and in the future

The Future of Forestry Think Tank event began with an appropriate presentation looking at BC’s land management policy today and into the future by Josh Pressey from the Cariboo Regional Executive Director from the Ministry of Forests. Discussing how we can modernize forest policy in BC, Josh discussed the components of the plan which included meaningful reconciliation, considering resilient landscapes, competitive markets, fair returns on assets and sustainability and stewardship. The forest operations plan was also discussed and the importance of making it consistent with the forest landscape planning and the importance of maintaining a platform for communication for all stakeholders.

Ongoing questions relating to BC’s forest policy were then discussed in a World Café style discussion - this was my first time participating in this kind of discussion and I could not believe how much more engaging it was and a great way to encourage collaborative discussions.

A World Café is a structured conversational process that facilitates collaborative dialogue and sharing of knowledge and ideas among participants. It is designed to create an open and creative conversation that fosters collective exploration of complex issues. In this type of discussion, participants are divided into smaller groups and sit around tables or in a circle, and each table has a facilitator. The facilitators are responsible for guiding the conversation and ensuring that everyone has a chance to speak and be heard. After a set amount of time, participants move to a different table, and a new conversation begins based on the previous one. This allows for a diversity of perspectives and ideas to emerge, and for the group to build on the collective knowledge that is generated through the process.

Across 8 tables there were 4 questions up for discussion:

  1. What does DRIPA mean, what does it look like, how do we make it work?

  2. How do we engage “stakeholders” constructively without having a fight?

  3. What does the outcome of a forest landscape plan look like?

  4. What do we mean by ecological resilience or landscape resiliency?

Facilitators and scribes at each table helped the flow of conversation and recorded main ideas that could be turned into action items. These were later presented to the group as a whole - a great way to gather input from various perspectives and to produce action items in a short amount of time - perfect for this kind of “Think Tank” event.


Topic #2: manufacturing facilities and products

Later in the day, the topic shifted towards manufacturing facilities and products. Quesnel and surrounding area was one of the hardest hit areas during the mountain pine beetle outbreak and as a result took a huge long-term hit to its annual allowable cut. Prior to the pine beetle, AAC was around 4 million cubic metres, which then sky rocketed to 7 million to account for salvage and rescue logging. But now, a few years after the fact, the AAC sits below 2 million cubic metres. For this reason, BC's forestry industry is seeing a decline in sawlog availability and other forest fibres. However, there is potential in the rising demand for innovative products in the forest bioeconomy sector with the decline of single use plastics. The need for housing in BC also offers an opportunity for mass timber housing, a market unique to the province.

To tell us more about these potential new markets and where BC is currently at at meeting this demands, a panel of experts were asked for their expertise and thoughts on the subject, as well as the opportunity for Quesnel in the forest bioeconomy and solid wood sector.

The panel consisted of:

  • Sandy Ferguson, the Director Forest Bioeconomy at Foresight Canada;

  • Alex Boston, the Executive Director of Renewable Cities and Fellow at the MJ Wosk Centre for Dialogue at SFU;

  • Tim Caldecott, the Director of Carbon and Market Economics at FP Innovations; and

  • Gustavo Oliveira, the Director of Innovation, Bioeconomy and Indigenous Opportunities Branch at MOF.

A common theme amongst the panelists was the way in which ecosystem values and challenges have evolved within the province in the way the market has shifted from volume to value. Sandy highlighted the limited collaboration with innovation and challenges to invest (with the exception of industry partners like West Fraser and Resolute). However, this isn't stopping BC interests in fibre flows, value-added products, mill asset repurposing First Nations collaborations, end-user markets and supply chain optimization. As Alex discussed, there is also the unique market in utilizing in timber housing, not only to promote renewable materials but also as a way to stabilize the labour force by focusing on offsite construction to promote affordability and supply, climate change mitigation and an economic transition to a different market. Echoed by Tim and Gustavo was the emphasis to produce more value with less fibre while providing more jobs.

Can we also just highlight (personal opinion): forestry in BC, which is unusually close to large cities like Vancouver has a bad rep. A lot of people look at forestry as a destructive practice and harmful to the environment. Meanwhile they utilize resources taken from precisely these forests every day and still declare war on single use plastics - an industry that can only be replaced by the forestry industry. So in addition to action items specifically for the forestry sector, I found the discussion on highlighting the truth, practicality and benefits of forestry particularly interesting and worthwhile. Part of encouraging this portion of the industry is the positive language used for “bioeconomy” and - as it has been used in other provinces and countries - over “residue”, “by-products”, etc. which make them seem much less appealing.

Ending Day 1 with SLIDO: Another great interactive aspect of the day was how we wrapped using using SLIDO - a web app where participants were given the opportunity to answer questions and input their thoughts as to their most and least favourite parts of the day, as well as their opinions on which items were the most feasible and possible for the city of Quesnel. It was a great way to gather immediate feedback and for participants to share their final thoughts for the day. I'll definitely be incorporating this the next time I organize a large event.


Wednesday, May 3rd

Topic #3: The Workforce

The second day shifted to focus on the forestry workforce. Given the large labour shortage in trades as a whole, the lack of labour in the forestry sector is being felt throughout the industry, from contractors and carpenters all the way to harvest operators. The main focus of the day's discussion was to prioritize action items that would help to recruit workforce to the forestry industry, retain them for the long-term and encourage migration towards rural communities such as Quesnel.

We began with presentations from a panel of those involved in attracting, training and educating the forest industry workforce:

  • Amy Reid, the Manager of Economic Development and Tourism at the City of Quesnel;

  • Emily Colombo, the Regional Manager at JEDI;

  • Dominik Roeser, the Associate Professor of Forest Operations at the University of British Columbia; and

  • Douglas Jamieson, the Director of Regional Education at the College of New Caledonia.

Panelists were asked questions as to whether the vision of the forestry industry in Quesnel can be achieved without retraining the workforce, how to address the challenges with retooling a workforce, and what a community needs to do to attract a workforce. It was great to hear from Amy and Emily about what specifically the City of Quesnel and the province of BC are doing to attract and retain workers in smaller, remote communities. This includes not only relating to making the city more attractive and self-sufficient but also the number of government grants available to industry partners. Hearing from Dominik and Douglas shed light as to what needed to be at both the university and college levels, respectively. Both agreed that in order to train the next generation of workforce in Quesnel, a forestry-focused curriculum was imperative, as well as training programs, experiential learning, focus on sustainability and providing attractive incentives. While we’re currently rushing towards digitalization and human-machine collaboration, Dominik Roeser reiterated the importance that at the key of workforce retention needs to be integrated values and perspectives with the common value being the land and not just products that it gives us.

While focusing on the importance of the forestry labour force, we also had the great opportunity to hear from the Honourable Harry Bains, the Minister of Labour, on the direction of the BC government on forestry workforce to hear his perspective on recruitment, retention and ensuring the safest work environments. Workplace injury or death in the field of forestry (including operations, fire fighting, silviculture, etc.) is higher than the provincial averages so it was great to hear about the consideration and prioritization for worker safety. To read the media coverage about his visit to the event click here.


Topic #4: The Forestry Cluster

To bring all the contents of the event together, we shifted our conversation towards The Forestry Cluster and how we can bring innovation that is already being demonstrated in other parts of the world and into Quesnel and the surrounding area. To kick off the discussion we heard from:

  • Jukka Matikainen, the Managing Director of Nordic Trading House

  • Matyas Kosa, the Bioproducts Lead at West Fraser Mills Ltd.

  • Bob Simpson, former mayor of Quesnel and Independent Insights Consulting

Hearing from Jukka, we saw the potential of the forest bioeconomy in other countries such as Sweden and Finland. Such countries are the benchmark for climate-smart forestry in action to provide solutions in the full value chain including logging operator training. Some of this innovation was already in practice in local industries, such as West Fraser. Examples of different biomaterials and potential for lignin and cellulose-based products were presented by Matyas including cellulose-based fully biodegradable material that can be used in regular plastic processing equipment like 3D printers. While these products show potential for the forestry industry, there still remains a missing link from aspiration to action by the rest of the province. Bob Simpson pointed this out by highlighting our current unprecedented challenges that call for unprecedented response. As Bob said, this link is often missing in branches of government that need to call for proper regulation, incentives and policy; which is common in a province that is run by politics instead of government.

The event concluded with another World Café-style discussion, where the focus was on turning ideas into action. We explored what may be stopping the City of Quesnel and the surrounding area from stepping up and enabling and fast-tracking innovation. The topics at the tables were what actions can we take in the following sectors:

  • The forest and land resource,

  • Manufacturing facilities and products,

  • The workforce and training Centre, and

  • What else is missing? What synergies or multiple wins align with the mornings forestry cluster

Concluding thoughts

Events like the Quesnel and Area Future of Forestry Think Tank are essential for moving any industry or project beyond the planning stage into the action stage. This collaborative discussion with participants from academic, research, local and provincial government, industry, Indigenous peoples, and the community is crucial in identifying opportunities for innovation and growth in the forestry industry.

Though my area of expertise was slightly removed from the specifics of the forestry industry, it was inspiring to see the motivation behind those involved and the drive to lead in innovation through sustainability and community values. It is clear that Quesnel is on the right track to being an excellent working example for other regions of BC and to be a leader in the industry. I look forward to seeing what comes out of the Quesnel area - which is Silva21's main research hubs in western Canada.

This event took place on the unceded traditional territory of the Lktako Dene Nation and was supported by the City of Quesnel and the Three Rivers Community Forest, with financial contributions from the North Cariboo Community Futures.


This blog post has not been peer reviewed or fact checked and is an independent article.

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