While the world has been hit with a global lumber shortage, don’t expect more clear-cutting in the region.
Ian Dunn, President and CEO of the Ontario Forest Industries Association, says there has been a global spike in demand for dimensional structural SPS lumber. This lumber is typically used for home building, which has skyrocketed during the pandemic. However, Dunn says the impact on lumber mills in the area will only go so far. Because of the greater diversity of timber in the region, like red and white pine, SPS lumber only makes up a portion of the total output. Items like utility poles, decorative panels and doors are a large portion of production in the Opeongo Highlands. Dunn says there is less fluctuation in the prices of these products. While some lumber mills may see a bump due to increased prices, others may not.
However, due to the increased demand, Dunn indicates that more use could be put into allocated woodlands. He says that currently, mills harvest less than half of what they are allocated. Woodlands, including Algonquin Park, are heavily regulated in regards to what can be harvested. Forest management plans often take 3 years to plan and last for 10 years, with modelling looking into the health of forests 150 years down the road. He stresses that just because there is increased demand doesn’t mean you can just go into the forest and begin cutting wood. While there is talk from the province to harvest more from the allocated areas, it will take time for mills to begin meeting demand in the global market.
That being said, Dunn stresses that sustainability is not up for sale. Timber harvesting is a secondary goal to forest management, but it does have its uses to management plans. For instance in Algonquin Park, Dunn pointed to greater woodland health compared to other Ontario Provincial Parks specifically because of selective cutting being allowed there. He argues that selective cutting improves genetic stock and helps contain wildfires. By removing certain trees, they trap the CO2 in the logs themselves, having them be stored in the wood rather than released with a forest fire. Dunn says the fact that some lumber mills in the Highlands have been operating for over 100 years shows just how sustainable the industry is.
Dunn predicts a very bright future for the forest industry in Ontario, especially with this bump in demand. The industry is looking for people to work in the mills and woodlands and to put down roots in their communities. He says forestry in Ontario can’t expand industry and meet demand without a workforce. Because of these changes, Dunn expects an exciting next couple of years for the forestry industry in Ontario.