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Don’t Shed That Rain Gear Yet, The Storm Does Not Subside In 2024

An Editorial Opinion – Right From The Stump, January 15, 2024

A View To 2024 & A Look Back On 2023

I thought I would share some quick prognostications on what to expect for the year ahead for the British Columbia forest sector. Will 2024 be another year of turmoil? It’s a provincial election year, which is typically when advocacy magic happens, but in the case of British Columbia, will the politicians be listening more to the woes of the forest sector or that of the ENGOs?


Also, I wanted to express a warm thank you to all my View From The Stump newsletter subscribers as well as to readers of the Right From The Stump blog posts.  Who would have thought having an opinion mattered.  In 2023, a total of eight newsletters were published, along with twelve blog posts, which I have ranked based on readership stats.


But first, let’s look forward:


A View To 2024


1.    Softwood lumber trade agreement between the United States and Canada – will this trade conflict be resolved with an agreement in 2024?  Given the distraction of the United States presidential election, do not hold your breath waiting for an agreement this year.


2.    Direction of North American markets in 2024? It’s difficult to offer a definitive answer in comparison to the status of softwood lumber trade negotiations. US single-family housing starts have been improving while multi-family starts have weakened. US SPF 2x4 prices have improved of late, by as much as 30% over year-ago levels, but BC sawmills will struggle to be profitable. There are several sawmill curtailments in British Columbia and a few elsewhere which does leave lumber exposed to a rally should a shock to supply or demand occur.  Market direction largely will depend on the costs of borrowing affecting construction loans, home-buyer mortgages, and major renovations. Interest rates remain relatively high and ride on what the US Federal Reserve does with the federal funds rate (financial markets have largely been expecting rate cuts but no such commitment has been made as of yet by the US Fed). China does not look to be a major market mover for 2024 given the state of their construction market. All in, we are likely to experience a sideways to modestly positive market.


3.    British Columbia forest policy will remain the slow-moving train wreck that it is. Until decisions that are good for forest stewardship, communities (including First Nations) and the industry are put ahead of votes, this will remain a challenging front. One positive is that stumpage rates are much lower than a year-ago and policy changes have supposedly reduced the reaction lag in stumpage rates to market fluctuations. If you thought the implementation of old growth deferrals has been disruptive, you had better buckle up  given the Province’s Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health Framework (although implementation could come after the election given so much has to still be worked out) and other half-cooked policy initiatives.


4.    British Columbia’s Crown (public lands) timber harvest will continue to decline in 2024, although maybe not by as much as in 2023, which saw harvested volumes decline by 20% or 8 million cubic metres to 33 million cubic metres (of normal production). The harvest is likely to drop below the 30 million cubic metre level in 2024. Coastal collective agreements for unionized timber harvesting crews and sawmill workers expire in mid-2024 – I am hoping no one wants to repeat what happened with the last negotiation and ensuing strike in 2019.


 5.    The British Columbia forest sector will continue to shrink, although the province is not running out of trees. Challenging economic availability of log supply (including lack of permits) will cause sawmills and other forest products manufacturers to curtail or outright close in 2024. Interior collective agreements expired in 2023 with “talks” currently without much progress between the forest products manufacturers and union.


BONUS prediction:

6.    Will a new cross-laminated timber (CLT) type, value-added wood products mass timber plant be proposed for 2024? I am going to be bold and say probably not, but if there is, it will likely be in partnership with a First Nations. The pressure is on the Province with a global mass timber conference scheduled for Vancouver in 2025 and with so much demand potential, but there so far has been very little to showcase for new made-in-BC supply.  The province has the trees, but does it have the will?


A Look Back At 2023


Putting current predictions aside, I made several blog posts last year in hopes of bringing awareness to issues facing the forest sector and cause greater discussion on the topics raised. In case you missed one of these posts, here is a list of all twelve, presented in order of which caught readers’ attention the most:


This was a note to correct the record on misleading information reported by the media, particularly with regards to the sector response to the mountain pine beetle epidemic and incorrect statements that we are running out of forests.


There were several government and industry announcements in January 2023 that reflected that state of things in British Columbia’s forest sector and the direction of where it’s going.


A look at the 2023 wildfire statistics, and lack of action despite several government commissioned reports calling for action. A key message from the Forest Practices Board was highlighted - unmanaged reserves are especially vulnerable. A list of action that should be taken was presented.


Old growth deferrals have led to negative impacts on timber harvesting and lumber production.


A snapshot summary of production curtailments and closures.


An analysis of the number of sawmills in 2005, 2023 and 2035.


Faced with severe reductions in timber harvesting and lumber production capacity, the challenges of the forest sector no longer can be blamed on the mountain pine beetle, rather government’s policy decisions are having a negative impact on the sector.


A critique of Premier Eby’s commentary on the forest sector and mixed messages.


A presentation with notes commenting forest policy changes in BC and the lack of specificity and economic strategy.


A progress update on the BC government’s goal to diversify forest tenure by doubling the amount of replaceable tenure held by Indigenous peoples. The key message was that moving forward, success will be through First Nations partnerships.


A parallel look at how the NDP government reversed energy policy when the need for more energy became obvious – the question was asked if the same could happen for forestry given the rising global demand for wood products.


A comment on the lack of debate of major forest policy including the old growth strategic review recommendation.



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Written By David Elstone, RPF

Publisher, View From The Stump newsletter

Managing Director, Spar Tree Group Inc.



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