Funding announcements, the future of fibre and an informative discussion on Aboriginal land title highlighted the final day of the Council of Forest Industries’ (COFI) 2015 annual conference, which took place on April 8 and 9 in Prince George, B.C.

Approximately 500 people packed into the auditoriums at the Prince George Civic Centre to listen to sessions on fibre supply, the bio-economy and community recognition, as well as an announcement from Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Steve Thomson.

Thomson announced that the B.C. government would invest $6.2 million in joint initiatives for enhancing the forestry sector’s competitiveness on a global scale.

The funding will be made available to several industry associations, including $3.3 million to the Canada Wood Group to help grow B.C.’s wood products market in China, as well as $300,000 for COFI to grow the SPF market in China and Japan.

He added that any future policies for the province’s forestry sector would need to revolve around keeping B.C. competitive on a global scale.

“This is an industry we can take great pride in, and know it has a long and prosperous future in British Columbia,” Thomson told the crowd.

Fibre supply constraints
In the session, “Fibre supply constraints and opportunities,” industry consultant Murray Hall discussed the challenges created by the mountain pine beetle in regards to future sawlog harvesting.

“The scale of this epidemic is unprecedented in North America, maybe the world,” he said.

Hall expects the shortage of sawlogs for harvest in the years to come will generate further contraction in the industry.

“It’s a nice way of saying that mills will be shutting down or slowing down,” he said.

Dave Peterson, assistant deputy minister and chief forester for the province of British Columbia, discussed the value of the available residuals on the market, stating that sawlog residuals are the best source of residual fibres, followed by harvest residuals.

He added that non-sawlog residuals are not economically viable at this time.

Bio-economy opportunities
The session on existing products and markets in the bio-economy had panelists discussing the many opportunities available.

Dr. Trevor Stuthridge, executive vice-president of FPInnovations, said that converting wood materials into sugar is a viable opportunity in the bio-products market, since sugar carries a value of about $400 a tonne.

Rod Albers, manager of energy and bio-product development at West Fraser Timber, shared a few of his company’s current projects with the crowd, including two 12MW biomass plants at Chetwynd and Fraser Lake, a 9MW biogas plant at Slave Lake Pulp and a 30-tonne-per-day lignin recovery plant in Hinton, Alta.

Albers said that the highest likelihood of success in bio-products ventures occurs when the product is combined with existing primary timber conversion.

“Find something that integrates with a mill,” he told the crowd.

Jerry Ericsson, president of Diacarbon Energy Inc., discussed his company’s white wood pellet and torrefacation project, and the benefits of the biocoals his company produces.

“Biocoal represents the second generation of wood pellet,” he said.

Ericsson says the benefits of using biocoals instead of traditional wood pellets include greater energy density, reduced moisture, cheaper storage due to the product’s water-resistant properties, and cheaper transportation costs due to its water density.

The demand for bio-chemicals and biofuels was also discussed during the bio-economy session.

Sandy Ferguson, vice-president of corporate development at Confiex, said that the aviation industry and the U.S. Navy have been creating significant demand for biofuels.

She said the U.S. Navy is looking to meet a target of 50 per cent biofuel use by 2020, and has invested $120 million in the biofuels market.

Bio-chemicals have also been experiencing significant growth, according to Ferguson, who said that 25 renewable chemical bio-refineries are currently operating or are under construction in the U.S.

During the Community Recognition Luncheon, keynote speaker Geoff Plant discussed aboriginal land title and the importance of the Supreme Court decision awarding control of 1,700 square kilometres of land to Tsilhqot’in First Nation last June.

He stated that if that parcel of land is First Nations land, then much of B.C. is aboriginal title land, which leaves the door open to wonder how the Supreme Court’s decision will impact the province’s forestry sector in the future.

Although government does have the right to infringe on aboriginal title land – if it can justify infringement – commercial logging did not qualify in this particular case.

Plant said the only thing preventing increased litigation related to land title claims is that many First Nations would rather negotiate than litigate.

He added that he understands that companies need certainty in regards to supply, but that it will not simply be handed over to them.

“We’re going to have to earn that certainty,” said Plant.

COFI’s next annual conference will take place from April 6 to 8, 2016 in Kelowna, B.C.