One of my favourite ornaments on our tree at Christmas time is a ceramic woodpecker. This forest dweller was one of the three potential natural checks to prevent the spread of the Pine Beetle. The other two are -40 Celsius temperatures in winter and forest fires. We don’t have the frigid winter temperatures anymore, but we certainly do have the forest fires.
The worldwide forest fire situation has been devastating the last 2 years, and more and more countries seem to be affected by the loss of assets, productive forest land and worse, life. Dead Pine stands killed by the Pine Beetle were the most susceptible to raging forest fires.
In British Columbia, 2018 was the worst year for forest fires with 1.3 million hectares lost besting the 1.2 million lost in 2017. In total, more than $900 million was spent fighting fires during the past 2 years. Once again in our province, and fortunately, no lives were lost due to the heroic work of Canadian forest fire fighters and those brought in from Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and the United States.
Our August was spent under almost apocalyptic, thick, grey skies, wondering when we would see the sun, our local mountains and ocean vistas. Smoke spread across Canada and as far away as Ireland. Predictably, as soon as September arrived, and the dew point dropped, mother nature took over and the threat of forest fires rapidly diminished in British Columbia.
But what of the next season? I attended a symposium in late October of 2018 at the University of British Columbia hosted by the UBC Forestry Faculty there; the topic was on the continued threat of forest fires and solutions for mitigation. Bruce Blackwell (UBC Forestry ’84) has been saying it is fuel loading and while it is great to put out fires, natural fires and controlled burns significantly help to reduce fuel loading and radical fire behavior. His point was, “When do you want your smoke?” In the fall and early spring or in July and August when fires can be at their worst and most damaging. The window to address fuel loading is closing. There is a movement from the BC provincial government and communities to promote and support more controlled burns in BC to reduce fuel loading removing more of the risk of extreme fire situations.
So, where does the ceramic woodpecker ornament fit in? It is my reminder that mother nature can be fragile but, has a significant role to play in mitigating risks with climate change.
As for business, our industry in 2018 saw new records and sustained high prices for forest products in North America during the 2nd quarter and then…. the free fall through 3rd and 4th quarter. This, once again, created challenges and yes, opportunities for any exporter of forest products.
There is no doubt that tariffs have had an impact on our business in China as products made there are being forced to find opportunities domestically, forcing imports (our exports) to the fringes. Canadian mills and businesses are competitive, and I have to say, so reliable with meeting contract obligations. That said, despite the challenges with pricing and wild fluctuations, we shipped virtually the same volume overseas in 2018, panels and lumber combined, as we did in 2017; just another good but challenging year.
As we moved through Spring, summer and into the fall these events unfolded:
- It was a pleasure to be a part of the large Interex shareholder and member company group that went to Japan to participate in our 25th Anniversary celebration in Tokyo on April 12th of 2018. We had over 230 people in attendance for the reception at the Palace hotel that evening. It felt good to address our guests and re-affirm our commitment to the Japanese market with sustainable forest products. Congratulations from the Canadian Embassy in Japan, Canada Wood/Japan, BC Wood/Japan and customers alike were well received and much appreciated.
- Our reloads continued to perform well and included the addition of 3 new operations in 2018 to accommodate our logistics requirements. We began the process of a “Best Practices for Container Loading” with 4 of our Panels reloads. The think tank of resources at each reload provided valuable suggestions and solutions for our container stuffing requirements.
- In late December, I participated in Minister Donaldson’s (Forest, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development) 2nd market trip to Japan. Government officials and Indigenous First Nations leaders participating in the mission declined to go to China to complete the tour; I declined as well based on comments from my own staff, Canada Wood leaders and Federal and Provincial government staff. The major forest product producers’ representatives continued with the China mission, lead by Canada Wood, completing the signing of MOU’s with MOHURD (Ministry of Housing and Urban Development) and supporting key initiatives for Wood in Manufacturing and Green building with wood. Our industry remains united in supporting market access and market development in our key jurisdictions in Asia.
- once again, financial support from Interex was directed to the Yaletown House in Vancouver, a complex care facility operating in downtown Vancouver;
- we continued with our United Way program with contributions for 2019 besting last year’s highwater mark, with a total of $12,700. Thanks to Rob Teichgrab for organizing the 12 Days of Fitmas challenge. Who knew that cars could be an avatar for participants? And thanks to Shari Ackerman for organizing the events held during our United Way campaign,
including the enlightening guest speaker – and again, the ever-popular Wine Survivor (congrats Peter U. with your win) and
- in December, instead of delivering Purdy’s chocolates to our vendors and suppliers, we thought it better to give to others in need. Interex made total contributions of $1,250 to foodbanks in Richmond, Vancouver, Kelowna, 100 Mile House, and Prince George, BC, as well Grande Prairie, Whitecourt and Edmonton, Alberta; all areas where our mills operate.
So, here we are with fresh snow on the local mountains near Vancouver, temperatures hovering around 6 Celsius, and personally, my completion of my 20th consecutive New Years Day ocean swim, therefore, it must be the start of another year.
We have demonstrated our resolve to be a reliable and recognizable exporter of forest products 25 years after the inception of our company. We could not have achieved this milestone without the support of the member companies we serve and the support from the vendors and other suppliers that make our business work.
We recognize and appreciate the dedicated staff both here in Vancouver and in Japan and we so value our customers’ support in all the diverse markets that we serve.
2018 was a challenging year, but that is not so different from others. We continue to address those challenges with our partners and appreciate those special events and friendships that make working in a sustainable forest industry so rewarding.
From myself and all our staff here at Interex Forest Products, we wish you all the best to you and your families for a healthy and prosperous New Year in 2019.
With best regards,
J. Bruce Pollock – President