Not Clear Cut

It’s evident in ongoing reporting from stakeholders and all interested observers that the viewpoints regarding future directions for B.C. forest management are not clear cut. Based on this most recent post at the government engagement site, it would indeed, as Jim Snetsinger told me here, be premature to draw any conclusions on what the final recommendations will be. Here’s a sampling of some of the views expressed by stakeholders in the Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland meetings, according to Snetsinger:

  • Some were interested to understand the potential for converting a First Nation’s replaceable volume based forest licence to a TFL
  • Some participants believe this volume-based to area-based conversion discussion should have been premised on how it could assist First Nations as the primary objective
  • Environmental groups were clearly opposed for many of the same reasons that have previously identified such as issues associated with corporate concentration, access to crown land, leaving old growth stands intact to support non-timber values such as water, the need to deal with climate change, the need for a broader forest management discussion – not just the conversion of volume-based to area-based
  • Some forest products producers were tentatively supportive as long as any conversions lead to better forest utilization and did not impede the potential to access low-value fibre for their operations
  • The need to ensure long-term forest stewardship was a resounding theme I heard from many stakeholders.

 

~All Aboard!~

On my way to the Dakeryn office May 3rd, 2011, I stopped to snap this image – in awe of the magnificent Disney Wonder, at the Port Metro Vancouver Cruise Terminal. This Monday, we’ll make the arduous journey from Yaletown to Waterfront Station – where my wide-eyed two and four-year-old daughters will have their cruise tickets to Alaska punched by Mickey. Note this blogger is scheduled to return just in time to join a far less exciting cast of characters: Roastmaster Jack Hetherington (Skana) and roasters Tom Casey (Welco), Andy McGibbon (West Fraser), and Ernie Harder (Retired), are scheduled to honour Lower Mainland market maestro Bill Barnett (Welco), recipient of the B.C. Wholesale Lumber Association’s prestigious Lumberman of the Year Award. Looking for tickets? Fuhgettaboutit! BCWLA President Chris Sainas (Dakeryn) confirms the 34th Annual BCWLA Roast at the Terminal City Club here in Vancouver June 12th is a sellout. See you there!

Who owns the resource?

The provincial government’s Area Based Forest Tenure Consultation website declares that the proposed license conversion is simply intended to help address the issue of a declining timber supply in B.C.’s Interior caused by the mountain pine beetle. A flurry of opinion pieces this week would seem to suggest the proposal is more complex, and calls for more scrutiny. All of the commentary certainly points to the reality that there are conflicting tensions at work in looking for control to shape the future of forest management in this province. Some outtakes:

“BC forests are facing unprecedented challenges these days, whether it be the mountain pine beetle devastation of vast areas of forests, dwindling timber supply, mill closures, overharvesting, lack of reforestation and silviculture, cutbacks in forest service staff, gutting of forestry inspections, ramped up raw log exports, as well as various problems associated with climate change and ‘cumulative impacts’. So, why is the government so transfixed by TFLs at this time to the point of obsession, especially given the huge difficulties facing the forestry sector? Are vested interests at work here? For other global investors, a Tree Farm licence becomes an investment and asset in itself, a casino chip on the international market.”
– Peter Ewart, Tree Farm Licenses and Global Financiers, 250 News

“The consultation now underway is not full, it is not provincewide and it is not public. It is designed to obtain feedback only on the government’s predetermined scheme to convert replaceable forest licenses (to cut timber) into tree-farm licenses – a proposal that will benefit only a monopoly of large companies and one that the public has repeatedly rejected.”
– Norm Macdonald, B.C. Liberals Are Giving Away Our Forests to Their Business Buddies, The Province

“Dividing exclusive access to timber among the big four puts smaller players, such as small forestry businesses and those owned by First Nations and communities, at a disadvantage. The details of the shift have not been finalized, but the proposal looks to be at odds with B.C.’s stated goals to create more opportunities for First Nations and communities. And tying the future of B.C.’s forest industry to the performance of four companies, whose share of those replaceable volumes of Interior timber has already increased from 63 per cent to 68 per cent over the past five years even while total available timber fell by seven million cubic metres, is a risky move.”
– Ngaio Hotte and Harry Nelson, Volume vs. Area, The Vancouver Sun

“The genesis of area-based conversions originated with the Special Committee on Timber Supply that recommended to ‘Gradually increase the diversity of area-based tenures, using established criteria for conversion and a walk-before-you-run approach’. To implement this recommendation the government is gathering public input – a prudent next step for a very important topic. Kudos to Minister Thomson for having the conviction to employ this approach.”
– Rick Jefferey, Area-based Tenure: Neither Good nor Evil, Coast Forest Products Association

“How did we get to this point? It is no secret that this redressed proposal is especially aimed at companies operating in the Interior. After the mountain pine beetle epidemic, the province allowed a significant increase to the annual cut to deal with massive quantities of dead or dying trees in this region. But that process has almost run its course: dead wood is running out and forest companies are cutting down more and more living trees, also known as green timber. In a headline-making case, West Fraser and Canfor took one million cubic metres of green timber over and above the allocated cut, without penalty by the B.C. government.”
– Jens Wieting, B.C. Forest Giveaway Threatens to Speed Up Collapse, Straight.com

“The only evident plan is to keep the rates of timber harvesting unsustainably high, thereby making the eventual collapse of available timber even more painful for forest-dependent communities, a policy based on the premise that it is better to have more jobs today and none tomorrow rather than fewer jobs today and some tomorrow.”
– Anthony Britneff, Tree-farm Licenses a Failure in Forest Management, The Vancouver Sun

Shifting Gears?

While lumber futures hit a 9-month low this morning, I read this brief post with interest at Wood Business. The author, analyst Russ Taylor, President of the International Wood Markets Group, acknowledges that “U.S. demand for lumber has not been growing as forecast.” He confirms that sluggish single-family construction is “the issue”. With the exception of November (710,000 units) and December (675,000 units) last year, Taylor notes new single-family housing has been “stuck” between 590,000-650,000 units since late 2012. He reports a range of 583,000-654,000 in the first four months of this year. “In contrast, for the 14-year period 1994-2007, U.S. single-family housing starts surpassed 1 million units each month.”

In Taylor’s view, “Without a significant pick-up, lumber markets could become oversupplied by the wave of new capacity additions and/or shifts now coming on-stream in North America.” Little over one year ago at the 2013 COFI Convention in Prince George, Taylor’s bullish forecast contained a caveat; he cautioned that the key to the “super cycle” thesis was “sustained demand”, while suggesting that in his opinion, supply side dynamics were “the only thing that’s not changing” in the short term.

 

Forestry vs. Hockey Management

On a day when the NHL’s Canucks introduced their new manager to the media, one lumber trader’s meeting with Jim Snetsinger, who is leading the provincial Area Based Forest Tenure Consultation process, created considerably less buzz in downtown Vancouver this morning. Even so, my session with the former chief forester of B.C. (and attending representatives from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource operations: Doug Stewart, Director of Forest Tenures Branch, and Allan Johnsrude, District Manager, Chilliwack) was enlightening.

As a blogger keenly interested in forest stewardship, I wanted to learn as much as possible about the proposed conversion of some volume-based forest licenses to new or expanded area-based tree farm licences. The government engagement site tells us that “volume-based tenures typically allow multiple tenure holders to harvest in the same timber supply area. Area-based tenures, with some exceptions, limit timber rights to one tenure holder operating in a designated area.”

Snetsinger indicated that the stakeholder meetings to date have offered a diversity of opinions. Interestingly, he noted that in-person meetings have been generally more positive toward the proposed conversion, in contrast with many of the negative comments posted at the engagement website. I wondered how those contrasting views might play out when Snetsinger’s report and recommendations are presented to the Minister of Forests at the end of June. Snetsinger didn’t share the view, as some have reported, that the Special Committee on Timber Supply’s recommendations surrounding forest tenure issues were being misrepresented. In his view, the committee’s recommendations were “carefully worded to ensure that everyone agreed”. He suggested the conversion would mitigate timber supply as a result of the Mountain Pine Beetle.

In the face of reportedly negative response to the proposed conversion (Canfor CEO Don Kane has called it a “deal breaker”) it’s been suggested that preserving, protecting, and enhancing public perception of B.C.’s sustainably managed forests should be a priority. In response to a suggestion that it would appear Snetsinger’s group would be recommending proposed conversion to area-based tenures, B.C.’s former chief forester stated that drawing such conclusion at this time was “premature”.

About the same time as I was digesting views from my meeting with the forestry management gentlemen, Vancouver Canucks’ new general manager Jim Benning was sharing his opinion that any conclusions forecasting a Stanley Cup for next year were “premature”. We’ll stay tuned.

If you go into the woods today..

You might be in for a surprise. Is it about more than a teddy bears picnic? With the B.C. Government’s Area-Based Forest Tenure Consultation set to wrap up in Vancouver today and tomorrow, there’s certainly a range of opinion to explore.

Canfor president and CEO Don Kayne is on the record at his blog: “In our view, this is absolutely not the time for major changes to tenure administration. Given the uncertainty regarding the state of our forests, we believe that there are many higher priorities that would yield greater positive impacts. We feel the benefits of area-based tenures are marginal at best. The public opposition to this proposal is a deal breaker. It risks setting forest companies against our public landowners and giving the impression that area-based tenures are an attempt by our sector to assert more control over a public resource.” 

“So who is behind the government’s push to change our volume based system to area based tenures?” asks professional agrologist and forester Jim Hilton in a thought-provoking piece here, in the Williams Lake Tribune. Hilton figures “there are two companies in favour of the conversion.”

“Don Kayne is worried that this is going to set off another war in the woods,” explained Norm Macdonald, Opposition Forests Critic, at a Debate of the Legislative Assembly earlier this month (see transcript here). Macdonald was Deputy Chair of the Special Committee on Timber Supply back in 2012. He feels now that the committee’s recommendations are being “misrepresented”. Citing a political agenda, Macdonald says “All we’re talking about is TFL rollovers,” calling the consultation “a sham”.

What says Minister of Forests Steve Thomson? “We are responding directly to the recommendations, and as I’ve said clearly, the way forward will be informed by those consultations and by the recommendations of Jim Snetsinger, a well-respected former chief forester who is leading the process for us.”

I hope to learn more in a scheduled meeting tomorrow morning with Snetsinger, who was himself a technical advisor to the Special Committee on Timber Supply.

“In Victoria, there seems to be a mindset that attrition and decline of traditional forest products is inevitable and OK. That’s woefully wrong. Most of the $1.5 billion spent to date (on the pine beetle crisis) has been aimed at dealing with impacts. There’s nothing wrong with that. But only about one-third of the money spent has gone back into improving the land base and growing forests for tomorrow.”
– Peter Woodbridge, Woodbridge Associates, Political Leadership Needed to Reform B.C.’s Inefficient Forest Tenure (July, 2012)

Where have all the traders gone?

Here at Dakeryn, on these unseasonably warm West Coast days, you’d think they’d all be out sunning on our brand spanking new patio furniture. Seems most are out-of-sight indoors, working the phones. Even so, it got one blogger wondering about whether there are any design tips, beyond new deck chairs, to enhance an already-productive trading floor. Aha! Upon a quick search with Google, these five design tips for generating office productivity popped into full view:

  1. Natural Light – It’s suggested that traders will be “brighter and happier” when they feel connected with the outside world. 
  2. Tidiness – While “clutter can promote creativity in some environments,” we’re told “it’s not always right for an office pushing productivity.”
  3. Comfort & Ergonomics – Calibrating your own work space “for comfort and accessibility” is said to be critical.
  4. Aesthetics – Studies have found that “beautiful spaces” elevate attitude and performance.
  5. Break Out Spaces – “If you work in an open-floor planned office that promotes a collaborative culture, it’s important to have a space where you can get away.. ‘Break out spaces’ can help improve staff morale and employee relationships. Communal areas are beneficial for all departments of a company.”

On a day like today, Dakeryn’s new ‘break out space’ is especially inviting during recess. When’s lunch?

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Enjoying Dakeryn’s new ‘break out space’ – overlooking downtown Vancouver

(Rental) Housing Starts

In February, a bullish forecast from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) projected single-family production to increase 32% to 822,000 units this year (see post here). The April U.S. housing starts and permit data released today represents a pace of 649,000 units (a 5% increase over the 618,000 units built last year).

Much of today’s analysis points to significant variables beyond seasonal weather that are defining the reality of new home construction:

  • “What’s been notable since the housing crash is how much construction is aimed at meeting demand for rental housing,” said Ryan Wang, an economist at HSBC Securities USA Inc. in New York. “There’s been a trend away from homeownership that’s persisted even as the pace of foreclosures has slowed. What we can see is that higher home prices, particularly for new homes, have weighed on demand.” Source
  • “Starts for the volatile multi-family homes segment surged 39.6 percent in April. Permits for single-family homes, however, rose just 0.3 percent and continue to lag groundbreaking, suggesting single-family starts could decline in the months ahead.. questions remain over how lasting the current strength will prove, and the report on consumer confidence offered a cautionary note.” Source
  • “For anyone tempted by these shiny headline numbers to conclude all the recent worry about the state of the housing market was much ado about nothing, we suggest you curb your enthusiasm, at least for now,” wrote Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial Corp, in a note to clients. The report, he wrote, “shows more of the same – a vibrant multifamily segment with a single-family segment still awaiting takeoff.” Source
  • “Single-family is still concerning, but multi-family is going full throttle,” said Moody, who had forecast 1 million housing starts. “We’re seeing job growth pick up, income growth pick up, and now there’s talk of loosening up credit for home purchases,” and those “should contribute to a pick-up in single family activity.” Source
  • “The current stock of apartments is insufficient to satisfy demand, sending rents soaring across the country and making multi-family units an attractive investment for developers and landlords,” said Stephanie Karol, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts. Source
  •  “The rental market continues to be strong due to the foreclosure crisis and the lack of economic mobility.. the housing recovery is happening, however meekly.” Source