B.C.’s forests minister says while the once mighty forest industry in this province is currently very healthy, more needs to be done to keep it competitive in the face of challenges from both inside and outside B.C.

Steve Thomson, who spoke to delegates at the annual Council of Forest Industries convention in Kelowna Thursday, said after the forest sector’s downturn during the last recession, it has rebounded and is growing, up  3.6 per cent last year.

And he promised his government will do all it can to help maintain and improve the industry competitive edge going forward.

Thomson said the industry now supports more than 60,000 direct jobs in this province and another 90,000 indirect jobs.

In her remarks prior to Thomson’s speech, COFI resident Susan Yurkovich said 140 communities across the province depend on forestry, the sector accounts for one in every 16 jobs in B.C. and in manufacturing, that number jumps to one in every four jobs.

“And we’re focused to make sure we have a competitive framework in British Columbia to make sure  (B.C. forest companies) are successful,” said Thomson.

But Thomson said despite the rebound in forestry here over the last eight years, challenges such as the emergence of competing  forest industries in places like New Zealand and Russia, as well as the United States—one of Canada’s major markets for wood—and issues like the devastation caused by the  Mountain Pine Beetle, securing a new soft-wood lumber deal with the U.S., regulatory issues, a favourable investment climate as well as sustainability all require work to make the industry as competitive as possible.

Following his remarks he told reporters while the province would prefer to see free trade in soft wood lumber with the U.S., Canada may have to settle for a managed trade deal instead like the one that recently expired. A new deal is currently the subject of negotiations at the federal level between th two countries.

Thomson was quick to add, however, that any new deal must be in B.C.’s, Canada’s and the industry’s interests. And if not, the province would not rule out other, legal avenues to make the U.S. comply.

“We know we have a good case,” said Thomson.

The minister, who is the MLA for Kelowna-Mission, said B.C. has a lot going for it when it comes to forestry, including an excellent workforce, strong companies, world-leading technology and a forest management system recognized around the world. All strengths that can be built on.

The COFI convention runs until Friday and will feature Premier Christy Clark as the final keynote speaker on Friday.