COCHRANE— Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Devin Dreeshen visited Spray Lake Sawmills in Cochrane on Monday (Oct. 5) to discuss the forestry sector's vital role in Alberta’s economic recovery.
“Since the spring, the lumber market here in the province of Alberta has taken off,” Dreeshen said. “It’s been booming for most of the year with record prices.”
According to a government release issued on Monday (Oct. 5), Canada’s lumber is now fetching record-breaking prices.
Since April, the benchmark price for lumber has increased by 215 per cent, setting a record high price for the industry.
Oriented strand board and plywood are also seeing benchmark price increases in the ballpark of 125 to 215 per cent as well.
The price for western spruce-pine-fur is selling at $1,288 per thousand board feet, up from a 52-week average of roughly $635, according to Natural Resources Canada.
Dreeshen said at the press conference the increase in prices only highlights the vital role the sector will play in the coming months while the government works to get the province’s economy back on track.
“Alberta’s forest sector is a major contributor to Alberta’s recovery and growth. This year, the projected government revenues from the forestry sector are going to be about $300 to $350 million,” he said.
To put it into perspective, Dreeshan said, that is about a third of the province’s oil and gas resource revenues.
In April The Cochrane Eagle reported the provincial government would be deferring timber dues for six months to provide immediate relief to foresty companies. The deferral was in response to the extreme near-term pressures the forest sector was experiencing due to a slow down in construction and retail sales and pauses in production.
At the time the province indicated that due to the COVID-19 pandemic the forest industry was experiencing low markets for lumber, oriented strand board and pulp.
During his tour of Spray Lake Sawmills, Dreeshan said, the province is moving forward with its economic recovery plan.
The plan is centred on building on the province's strengths with targeted investments, while accelerating diversification in the province through implementing policy and legislative reforms meant to create jobs and make the province more competitive in the long term.
“Forestry is a critical part of that plan,” he said. “That’s why I’m pleased that Alberta maintains the most competitive forest sector in the world.”
While other jurisdictions, including British Columbia, saw reduced production levels, mill closures and economic decline due to COVID-19, Alberta has maintained growth in its forestry industry— This gives the province a competitive advantage.
The province is moving forward with its Forest Jobs Action Plan, Dreeshen said, which will allow the United Conservative Party to increase the sustainable allowable cut by 33 per cent. The province has already achieved an increase of 13 per cent.
According to the Alberta Government’s website, the Forest Jobs Action Plan includes five key pillars:
- Ensuring a more expedient return of wildfire-burned areas to productive forests.
- Awarding currently unallocated portions of approved annual allowable cut through an open and competitive process.
- Exploring the enhanced use of harvest waste and residual wood fibre.
- Using superior naturally occurring seedlings that research indicates are better for the long-term health and resilience of the province’s forests.
- Working with companies to ensure the best use of allocated timber in their forest management plans.
Dreeshen also took time to recognize the importance of “corporate citizens” like Spray Lake Sawmills, and the benefits these companies bring to the community in terms of GDP growth and stable employment for residents.
Spray Lake Sawmills employs more than 200 people, and is a major contributor to the local economy, he said.
“The more Spray Lake Sawmills that we have in the province, I think everybody would be better off.”
Province-wide, the forestry sector directly employs 19,500 people, and supports more than 25,000 additional jobs, contributing roughly $1.7 billion in salaries and wages in 2019.
“In Alberta, the forestry sector is so important, not just because it supports over 40,000 jobs across the province, it generates billions of dollars in exports every year,” he said.
Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie noted the important role Spray Lake Sawmills plays in both the community and the province.
“Canada’s wealth and economic strength comes from our resource sector. Whether it’s energy, agriculture, mining minerals or forestry, these are the job creators that provide so many, and so much for families all across our province,” he said. “Having a leader in Spray Lakes right here in Cochrane is a tremendous asset to our constituency.”