WSCA Strategic Summit: August 2008 – Planning for difficult times and tight markets

As many of you know sowing requests for the 2009 planting season indicate one of the lowest annual planting programs in two decades. Our estimate comes in at under 200 million seedlings total including projections for a very meagre ’09 summer plant.

Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association

8 July 2008

To all silviculture contractors, firefighters and nurseries:

WSCA Strategic Summit
Wednesday 27 August 2008
Kamloops, B.C.
(venue TBA)

Planning for difficult times and tight markets: 2009 and 2010

As many of you know sowing requests for the 2009 planting season indicate one of the lowest annual planting programs in two decades. Our estimate comes in at under 200 million seedlings total including projections for a very meagre ’09 summer plant. This estimated level, a loss of a quarter of the annual program in one year, is likely to persist into 2010 since American housing demand, which traditionally drives the program, is not about to rebound. Meanwhile, as many of you have reported, industry is exploiting various strategies to keep their forestry costs and obligations to the barest minimums which only adds to the decreases in forestry activity overall. Public investments to restore and reforest the mountain pine beetle plague, Forests For Tomorrow, will increase slightly to 12 million seedlings next year, peaking in 2011 at 20 million as part of an overall annual $54-million investment. But the program is forecast to remain more or less constant at this level for the next 20 years unless government can be convinced a larger and more prompt response to the distressed landscape is required. Other modest increments such as urban forestry could see some extra trees grown, but the government appears to be moving towards implementing these programs through “a social lens” meaning employment bridging and mitigating the harvest sector economic downturn. These trees, and related forestry work being contemplated totaling $22-million over the next few years, may not even make it to the silviculture contracting sector.

These disappointing forecasts need to be set against the government’s attempt to transform the forest sector as part of its Forestry Roundtable recommendations and its climate action agenda. New forms of tenure, potential bio energy demands, anticipated carbon credit revenue streams, growing concerns over the continuing effects of the MPB infestation, a pending election and a different minister may create new opportunities for silviculture service providers. Just what forms these opportunities may take and when are the uncertainties we face. Nevertheless it would not be overly optimistic to imagine the sector, not only beginning to turn around in a couple of years, but doing that by creating a whole new range of stewardship business roles and services for the silviculture sector. To take advantage of these emerging opportunities the sector will need to retain its entrepreneurial energy and capacity over the coming lean times.

Just how we might do that will be the main theme of this year’s strategic summit. In the past—admittedly in more promising circumstances—just sharing information pertaining to demand, labour and costs affected everyone’s behaviour resulting in a reversal of the decade’s depressing trends. Just to sit in the same room and talk about the apparently grim prospects we face in the short term today could be an important first step in mitigating their effects. Organized talk could also lead to more difficult and complex strategies such as cooperation and action. At the very least we stand to leave the summit better informed about the industry’s short and long term prospects and more aware of how our individual actions might affect the whole for better or for worse. Some of you may even leave feeling optimistic about the future informed with a new view of what it might look like as new ideas, some of which are ours, take root.

Over the summer in the weeks leading up to the late August summit we intend to poll contractors across the province by email and phone. We want to create an industry overview of salient trends and find out what you identify as the key priorities that either hold promise or threaten your business and the industry as a whole. We also want to spend the next while bringing you up to speed on the WSCA’s strategic policy work that has taken place while you have been busy with this year’s field season. You are likely aware of our media strategy which has included both provincial and national coverage of our issues as well as our very positive and much appreciated across B.C. Six Billionth Tree celebration. You may not know as much about ongoing work with our sympathetic allies in municipal governments across the province, our encouraging relationship with the new Minister of Forests and Range Pat Bell and the WSCA’s very practical proposals to get more trees and work into the market place as soon as next year. So pay attention to your inbox.

I hope you all have had a successful season so far this year and that it continues. Dave Humphries and I will be canvassing you over the next weeks with our polling work and we look forward to hearing what you have to say. Most importantly we hope you can make it to the 26 August session. Once again the Kamloops summit is open to all silviculture contractors, firefighters and nursery operators whether they are members of the WSCA or not. There is no registration charge for the summit. We will advise you of the venue and try to make some arrangements for group rates for accommodation.

JOHN

John Betts
Executive Director
Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association
Phone 250-229-4380