Q&A – 2016 Edition

Of the Top Ten Questions for 2016 posed at Harderblog one year ago, the first five have been satisfactorily answered for us:

1. Will the Trump presidential campaign have staying power beyond March?
See November election results.

2. Will the US make history by electing a woman as president for the first time?
No.

3. Will BC softwood log exports to Mainland China eclipse BC softwood lumber exports?
For the answer to this question, we turned to Russ Taylor, President, WOOD MARKETS. “Interesting question, but lumber export volumes to China have always been much higher than logs. The gap is narrowing, but lumber export volumes are still much higher.” Russ confirms BC softwood exports to China through October as follows: Logs = 3.0 million m3 vs 2.43 million m3 in 2015 (+23%); Lumber = 5.0 million m3 vs 5.49 million m3 in 2015 (-9%). Of course, log exports even south of the border continue to be a contentious issue.

exports

4. Will a new Softwood Lumber Agreement be reached between Canada and the United States before the standstill period ends October 13?
No. By early October, we were told talks had entered the days of magical thinking. And while the US Lumber Coalition’s submission of their petition to the US Department of Commerce was predictable, the November 25 timing caught markets by surprise. At least one forest analyst suggested “it put a whole new spin on Black Friday.”

5. Is this the year virtual reality goes mainstream?
As the cost of development falls, we’re told virtual reality is in fact beginning to move into the mainstream. However, it’s reported that most console headsets are still “device-exclusive”. And flaws in these controllers actually tempered demand in 2016, leading Tech Digest to ask will virtual reality finally become mainstream in 2017?

Forest Bathing

The focus in 2017 is going to be how to achieve a deeper sense of “wellness” in everyday life, reports The Vancouver Sun here. Defined as “making contact with and taking in the atmosphere of the forest,” forest bathing involves immersing “in the calming, leafy greenery of a woodland/forest environment – to relieve tension and stress and to experience a more heightened sense of well-being.”

The term forest bathing comes from the Japanese shinrin-yoku, which means taking in the forest atmosphere. “Knowing the pleasure of being outdoors is nothing new to people here on the West Coast, but the terminology ‘forest bathing’ is something new to our ears. As a result, more people are predicted to go for a walk in the woods if they think of it as ‘bathing’ in nature rather than just taking a rustic ramble.”

Psychology Today explains “what sets forest bathing apart from simply taking a walk in the forest is that we consciously take in the sights, sounds, smells, and the whole experience, rather than allowing our minds to do the things they habitually do, like putting together a mental grocery list.”

This theme of forest bathing certainly fits into progressive thinking for stewardship of the forest. It recognizes value in the holistic approach that plugs into Mike Apsey’s thinking on forest management that appreciated value in the woods beyond “the price of a 2×4”.

runnning-nov-2016-photo-by-ejh

Getting Burned

The news this week is all about getting burned. In B.C. we’re told that forests ravaged by fire this year are already nearly triple the 10-year average, with costs of fighting them expected to soar to $400 million. With newly-imposed water restrictions, Vancouver lawns display shades of burned brown. On normally lush Fraser Valley farms, the hot weather is scorching crops, leaving one visiting trucker to off-load surplus blueberries on our trading floor this week. Somehow the perceived hardships resulting from rules against washing your car in Vancouver pale in relation to wildfires causing families to be burned out of Interior homes.

There are other reports of getting burned in the news today. The summer sun has reportedly brought out a new trend where Darwin award candidates are using sunscreen to draw designs on their bodies. The bright idea is to get a severe sunburn so that the design created by the sun is visible. Meanwhile gold investors’ portfolios are getting burned rather than burnished. And there are other burning issues today besides Canadian lumber stocks. Today’s column by Barbara Yaffe in The Vancouver Sun reports that homebuyers risk getting burned by home inspections because there is a lack of independence between the home inspection industry and realtors. Do the bulldozers really care?

In the wider world there is more talk around the nuclear deal with Iran as Congress prepares to debate the issue over whether it’s a good deal or a bad deal in which some suggest the West and Israel will surely “get burned”. This week came news of hackers accessing a website teed up to facilitate philanderers. Playing in those websites is said to hold risks of getting burned. Some might say this alludes to the kind of burning ring of fire that Johnny Cash used to sing about.

Some might question just what does all this have to do with the price of 2×4’s? But in conclusion, a lumber trader was heard to say that even amid reports Americans bought homes in June at the fastest rate in over eight years, there is risk of getting burned in the cumulative build-up of excessive household debt in Canada. But for some lumber traders, it was Starbucks recall of tea pitchers that really caught our eye, after some customers were cut and burned by breaking/leaking glass. We depend on that stop each morning to offer up encouragement for the day – to be rendered risk-free of getting burned – if you don’t count the price paid in depleted loonies.

softwood lumber dispute

Getting Started on Housing Starts

Since when does data on building chicken barns legitimately become part of housing starts analysis? In today’s Lumber Market Report, Random Lengths drew attention to what seemed like an unusual point in noting that “4×6-12’s on the westside got a boost from strong sales to builders of chicken houses”. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Certainly the roosters don’t care. So why should we?

There’s interesting stuff happening in housing construction in many areas that makes one wonder about the collection of data on starts. For one, does size matter? As part of Vancouver’s Eco Density Initiative, Laneway Infill Housing aims to increase density without disrupting neighborhood building patterns. No doubt the building materials used in construction of one of Vancouver’s many new monster homes is equivalent to five or six laneway houses or two dozen chicken houses. This morning The Vancouver Sun reports Hummingbird Micro Homes selling up to 31 housing starts at 300 square feet per home. Are these houses included?

The multi-family trends in ‘housing construction’ south of the border no doubt influence degree to which particular starts impact use of lumber, as traders warily scrutinize activity for June. Meanwhile, a recent string of local articles bemoan the sluggish lumber recovery in B.C. It has some wondering if it’s time industry focused a little less on what we can’t control (housing starts) and a little more on what we can (lumber production).

lee-lorenz-but-enough-about-the-dollar-let-s-talk-about-me-new-yorker-cartoon

Seven Questions for the Cariboo Fire Centre

In the heart of B.C.’s beetle zone, the Cariboo Fire Centre covers an area of about 10.3 million hectares divided into three zones: Central Cariboo, Quesnel, and 100 Mile House. Headquartered in Williams Lake, it is one of six provincial wildland fire centres operated by the world-renowned B.C. Forest Service Wildfire Management Branch. Special thanks to Emily Epp, Fire Information Officer at the Cariboo Fire Centre, for taking the time to answer seven questions:

  1. In consideration of the low snow pack that is being reported in the mountains this year, does this increase the risk factor for wildfires this summer?
    Snow pack levels are one means of forecasting whether we’ll see an early or late start to the fire season. However, they aren’t a good indicator of how intense the season will be. More relevant indicators are precipitation levels and drying patterns as we move into summer. The nature of the fire season will ultimately depend on the arrival (or absence) of the “June rains”.
  2. What steps, if any, are being taken in advance preparation for this summer’s fire season?
    Throughout the spring and early summer, Wildfire Management Branch personnel focus on training and preparation for that upcoming fire season. Our fire fighters are highly skilled and trained to fight wildfires. Resources are positioned throughout the province in readiness for any level of fire activity that the season may bring.
  3. Are there specific areas that pose greater than normal or heightened risk for wildfires this season?
    The Fire Danger Rating is currently “Moderate” across most of B.C., with scattered areas of “High” in north, central, and southern B.C. The current long-term outlook for the summer indicates a potential for higher-than-normal temperatures. However, warmer than normal conditions alone are not necessarily an indicator of an intense fire season. While long term weather models may indicate trends over time, they cannot reliably forecast more than a few days in advance. We maintain our levels of preparedness by studying forecasts which will give us a good idea of what to expect in the short term. For looking more than a few days into the future, these forecasts have a diminished level of reliability.
  4. Is beetle-killed timber exacerbating the threat or risks this season?
    Recent wildfire observations over the past few fire seasons (2006-2011) have confirmed aggressive fire behaviour in MPB-affected forests. More information is being collected to validate potential and expected fire behaviour across a range of MPB-attacked forest fuel classes. The Wildfire Management Branch is working with communities, local governments, and First Nations to implement community wildfire protection plans in MPB-affected forests to address fire safety issues from the provincial MPB infestation.
  5. Are there any indications of industry taking any special steps in preparing for this fire season?
    By law, forest licensees are required to have hazard abatement plans in place and necessary wildfire suppression equipment on hand when working in the forest.
  6. What kind of budgets are in place for fighting anticipated fires this season? How does this compare with recent years? Is the number mentioned adequate in your opinion?
    For budgeting purposes, the government of B.C. has allocated $63 million in Direct Fire for the 2015/2016 fire season. When actual costs exceed the Direct Fire budget allocation, the Wildfire Management Branch has statutory authorization to receive additional funds. In the past 10 fiscal years (2005/09 to 2014/15), net Direct Fire costs have ranged from a low of $47 million in 2005/06 to a record high of $382 million in 2009/10. In fiscal year 2014/2015, WMB spent almost $298 million. It’s difficult to forecast wildfire suppression costs as each season varies significantly depending on weather conditions and the number and severity of wildfires that we respond to. The province will always spend what’s necessary to protect people and property.
  7. Are there other resources (equipment, personnel) that are being added this year? Are such resources in place now?
    This fact sheet details the resources the province has in place to fight wildfires this year:
    https://news.gov.bc.ca/factsheets/factsheet-forest-fire-prevention-is-everyones-responsibility

 

2015 COFI Convention – 25 Takeaways

  1. Most oft-used word at the convention: Certainty. Canfor CEO Don Kayne said China wants supply “certainty”. A member of the audience questioned how we provide that “certainty” to China in view of the Tsilhqot’in Supreme Court of Canada ruling. In another session, B.C.’s Chief Forester Dave Peterson said there’s been considerable “uncertainty” since 2000 regarding impact of the mountain pine beetle. “All these pieces of uncertainty are gone.. we’re past the point of doing math.. we know what it has done” (730 million cubic metres of timber killed). In his Forest Minister’s Address, Steve Thomson suggested working toward “certainty” on the provincial land base is a government priority.
  2. Second most oft-used word at the convention: Integrated. Integrated harvest regime, integrated forest bioeconomy etc. etc. “Bioproducts have the highest likelihood of success when integrated with existing primary timber conversion,” said Rod Albers, Manager Energy & Bio-Product Development at West Fraser. Lignin can be “re-integrated” into engineered wood products.
  3. You can make anything with lignin except money.
  4. Third most oft-used word at the convention: Partnerships. A key theme across all panelists.
  5. There’s a looming shortage of biomass in B.C. “We run out in 2023/2024/2025.” (Murray Hall Consulting)
  6. Dr. Trevor Stuthridge, Executive Vice-President FP Innovations confirmed the bioeconomy is the fastest growing economic sector in the world. The title of his presentation “Will Canada and B.C. play a role in the bioeconomy?” remains an open question.
  7. Torrefaction – the process of roasting and toasting – is not unique to Starbucks. Roasting wood into biocoal is now the 2nd generation of wood pellets (Jerry Ericsson, President of Diacarbon Energy Inc.)
  8. Dwindling fibre supply projections/forecasts/assumptions in the B.C. Interior are based on current management/conventional thinking. Are there ways that we can re-define current management?
  9. “More contraction” is a nice way of saying mills shutting down.
  10. “Biomass is everything that’s left over after everybody’s used everything they want” – Murray Hall Consulting. “There is no sawmill waste left – lets stop talking about it as an untapped source of bioeconomy growth.”
  11. Sandy Ferguson, VP Corporate Development at Conifex confirmed substantial work has been completed to resolve the equipment failure at the Conifex bioenergy plant in Mackenzie. Start-up date TBD.
  12. “Look out for China,” warned Brendan Lowney, Forest Economic Advisors. “I’m more nervous about China than I’ve been in many years,” added Russ Taylor, Wood Markets Group.
  13. “I can guarantee you 1.5 million U.S. housing starts but I can’t guarantee when” – Brendan Lowney
  14. “It’s impossible to forecast housing starts” – Russ Taylor
  15. Cost structure is changing in B.C. = rising log costs.
  16. Four shiploads of European lumber set sail for the East Coast in January. Changes in exporting countries FX resulted in 15% drop in SPF #2&Btr prices in China (Nov 2014-Feb 2015). There is reportedly now “little room for lower prices on Russian and European lumber,” according to Russ Taylor.
  17. Ecosystem-based management = balancing economic, environmental, and human well-being.
  18. Dallas Smith, President and CEO Nanwakolas Business Corp, and Nanwakolas Council, is one compelling speaker.
  19. The future of high-rise construction is wood. The proposed 18-storey wood-frame tower at UBC would be the tallest wooden building of its kind in the world.
  20. Oliver Lang, Partner at Lang Wilson Practice in Architecture, was the only speaker who addressed “urban culture” and the trend toward multi-family home construction in this urban context. While the moderator likened Lang’s presentation to “trying to drink water from a fire hose”, it was riveting. While wood is the sustainable, green building material, traditional single-family home construction is not the sustainable model of the future.
  21. “Minimizing waste created by our activity is a primary global environmental and social objective.” – Chief Forester Dave Peterson. “Given future sawlog supply reductions, it’s a very tricky balance point between the interests of existing and potential fibre users.”
  22. “There is no question we have fibre supply challenges.” – Mark Feldinger, Canfor
  23. China used more cement in the last three years than the U.S. did in the 20th century (FEA)
  24. Truck driver shortages are worsening. Only 12% of for-hire drivers are under the age of 30. Canada could experience a shortage of 25,000-33,000 for-hire drivers by 2020. (Matthew May, BST Transportation Group)
  25. This year’s CEO panel discussion featured Ted Seraphim, West Fraser and Don Kayne, Canfor. In a convention packed with punch, count this blogger among many who left that hurried luncheon session disappointed. The seated ‘fireside chat’ was void of any meaningful content beyond vague, shared “optimism” about the future.

NAWLA Vancouver – Speaker Profile cont.

Gavin Dew works with the Stakeholder Engagement and Communications group on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project, a proposed $5.4B twinning of an existing pipeline between Strathcona County, Alberta and Burnaby, British Columbia. Since early 2012, he has worked to build support for the project among civil society and the business community. Prior to beginning his work with Trans Mountain, Gavin completed an at MBA at the University of Oxford, where he wrote a thesis on “social license to operate,” focusing on using public opinion research to understand how trust and legitimacy influence acceptance or rejection of major projects. Before his MBA, Gavin was a senior consultant at a leading communications agency known for its work on sustainability and environmental issues. He also has an extensive background in municipal, provincial, federal, and international election and issue campaigns.

Attendance for Thursday’s NAWLA Vancouver Regional Meeting is approaching 200. Event details and on-line registration is available here.

Kinder Morgan Canada is proposing a $5.4B expansion of its current 1,150 kilometre Trans Mountain pipeline between Strathcona County, Alberta and Burnaby, British Columbia.

The proposed Trans Mountain Expansion Project, if approved, would create a twinned pipeline increasing the nominal capacity of the system from approximately 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day.

Trans Mountain plans to spend $5.4 billion to construct the line and associated facilities, and a further $2.4 billion to operate it for the first 20 years.

The project includes 994 km of new pipeline, with twinning to take place within the existing right-of-way corridor where practical. Also included are 12 new pump stations and expansion of existing pump stations, additional storage capacity at existing storage terminals in Burnaby, Sumas and Edmonton, and expansion of Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby.

The Project will create new jobs in the short and long term, job-related training opportunities, and increases in taxes collected through all three levels of government.

Gavin Dew
Senior Specialist, Stakeholder Engagement and Communications
Tran Mountain Expansion Project

Trade Disputes

Judging from weekend reports in the Financial Post, the U.S. – Canadian softwood lumber trade disputes are heating up again. With the 2006 Softwood Lumber Agreement set to expire October 12, 2015, we’re told there are signs this historic trade grievance is set to return with a vengeance.

“Some things have changed. In one of the most interesting developments, a Canadian company, Interfor, this year bought Preston, Ga.-based Tolleson Lumber Co., whose chief executive and president, Rusty Wood, served as chairman of the U.S. Lumber Coalition, the U.S. industry group that is a persistent critic of the Canadian industry.

Indeed, three Canadian companies now own at least 12% of U.S. lumber production in the southeast U.S. Yet these moves are unlikely to alter the dynamics of a trade dispute that dates back decades. If history is any guide, it’s unlikely the U.S. business will let sleeping logs lie. As the expiry of the agreement ticks closer, it becomes more likely softwood lumber will return as one of the biggest cross-border trade irritants.

‘I’ve worked on Softwood Lumber intermittently since the 1990s. The size and longevity of the dispute is amazing,’ said Harry Nelson, an assistant professor in the department of forest resources management at the University of British Columbia. “Things flare up with tomatoes, pork, or meat labeling. But this one, with the persistence and longevity, is unique.’”

– Financial Post 31 Oct. 2014

Opening Day – Wood Innovation and Design Centre

Robert van Adrichem, VP External Relations at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), emailed to confirm the Wood Innovation and Design Centre in Prince George will officially open this afternoon. UNBC President Daniel J. Weeks, Minister Shirley Bond, and architect Michael Green will be among the VIPs in attendance.

Featuring the inventive use of wood solutions to solve every-day design and construction challenges, the centre will be the home of UNBC’s proposed new graduate degrees in Engineering that will have a focus on wood. At eight stories, the building is one of the tallest buildings made of wood on the planet. A link to images will be posted shortly after the opening at the UNBC homepage here.