B.C.’s lumber industry went from record high prices to a steep decline in 2018, with B.C. sawmills cutting production as the reduction in Interior timber supply declines in the aftermath of the mountain pine beetle epidemic.
For 2019, the industry is looking for new wood construction technology and Asia demand to make up for continuing trade disputes with the U.S. It’s been a year since the U.S. International Trade Commission declared Canadian imports were harming the U.S. industry, imposing import duties of about 20 per cent on Canadian imports, half of which come from B.C.
And since then President Donald Trump’s trade war with China has led to a drop in U.S. lumber exports as well. A surplus of pine logs in the southern U.S. has added to the lack of Canadian import demand, resulting from a federal incentive program for planting fast-growing trees on private land there.
One potential bright spot for U.S. demand is a recommendation from the International Code Council (ICC), recommending building code changes for 2021 that would allow “mass timber” buildings up to 18 floors high, with gypsum wallboard on timber elements for fire protection. That would be twice as high as the current U.S. maximum.
“Mass timber has been capturing the imagination of architects and developers, and the ICC result means they can now turn sketches into reality,” said Robert Glowinski, president of the American Wood Council. “ICC’s rigorous study, testing and voting process now recognizes a strong, low-carbon alternative to traditional tall building materials used by the building and construction industry.”
B.C. got on the world mass timber map in 2016 with the construction of Brock Commons, an 18-storey residence on the University of B.C. campus. It remains the tallest wood structure in North America, but a project in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is looking to take the title for the tallest in the Western Hemisphere with a 21-storey luxury rental tower called Ascent.
B.C. Forest Minister Doug Donaldson led the province’s largest ever industry trade mission to Asia in December, with stops in Korea, Japan and China. Those countries now represent about 30 per cent of B.C.’s lumber export market, and industry leaders say there is more growth potential as wood construction technology improves and the environmental benefits of wood buildings replacing concrete are demonstrated.
The B.C. and Canadian governments co-sponsor with forest companies demonstration projects in all three countries. One of the latest is Gapyeong Canada Village near Seoul, South Korea.
In his “wish list” for 2019, Forest Products Association of Canada CEO Derek Nighbor called for greater pride in the industry.
“Canada’s working forests are a model for the world,” Nighbor said. “Consider the careful planning that envisions horizons beyond 100 years, and our commitment to multiple values including watershed health, wetlands preservation, supporting multiple species of birds, mammals and fish, and mitigating fire risks.”
The association says Canada’s forest industry has reduced its own greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds in 30 years, and has a goal of a further reduction of 30 megatonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2030.
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