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The supply of veneer wood in Quebec

What’s the situation and where are we heading?


The author, Joel Quévillon is Vice President of Forestry with Commonwealth Plywood Ltd. With the company since 1996, he is responsible for procurement of raw material for all crown lands


Standards have changed

Limited diameter cutting was the practice in hardwood forests in Quebec in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Wood was cut on the basis of size and anticipated use. In the early 1990s, government orientations and measures confirmed selective cutting as the natural way of the forest reproducing itself. In this type of selective or partial cutting, trees are harvested while care is taken to leave standing most of the high-quality growing saplings and promote the regeneration of the preferred species. In the early years of this decade, a study on the real effects of selective cutting showed that the anticipated growth of treated plantings had not materialized. The Quebec ministry of natural resources and wildlife (MRNF) decided to change the way trees were classified for the 2005-2006 season. As a result, cutting programs now systematically target the least vigorous, sickest and most damaged trees. It’s a reverse beauty contest, with prizes going to the ugliest trees…


The domino effect

Veneer quality forests are mixed forests that include various species and qualities. The systematic removal of lower-quality cut blocks boosts the volume of pulp wood and makes it much less likely that veneer quality blocks will be cut. Therefore, the value of fibre for the same area of forest is dramatically reduced.


The domino effect is amplified when we consider that this increased pulp wood generation occurred just as pulp and paper companies saw their capacity for paying for fibre decline dramatically. Demand for pulp wood declined just when regulations required increased production. The quantity of veneer quality wood (and sawing) could no longer generate sufficient value to cover harvesting costs. Sawmills and veneer plants are closing down as they no longer harvest “cuttable” areas, generate less pulp wood for pulp and paper companies, and no longer generate sub-products for the companies – the shavings that used to reduce the cost of fibre.


The impact on costs

The cost price of a cubic metre of hardwood lumber and veneer has gone through the roof in recent years. The MRNF has tried to compensate, at least partially, for rising harvesting costs by giving more generous forestry credits, but has refused to compensate for the reduced value of harvested products. As a result, forested areas that generate lower cutting volumes generate none at all because it cannot be harvested economically. In short, the chosen forestry strategy is too costly and the government does not compensate the companies that do the harvesting.


The near future

The permanent closure of pulp and paper companies, recourse to bankruptcy protection, stricter (and thus more expensive) environmental standards, protected zones that reduce the potential for forestry, the new strategy that is not economically viable – all these factors leave little hope that sufficient quantities of quality hardwood can be harvested any time soon over the next few years. The MRNF is currently developing a new forestry plan for 2013. A great deal of effort has been invested in this new, more regional way of handling forests. The problem is that 2013 seems very far away for companies that are wondering whether they’ll still be around tomorrow…