FOREST INK: Challenges of producing current forestry news

Jim Hilton has come to appreciate the work involved providing current and interesting articles

Jim Hilton

Observer Contributor

Since I have been writing opinion pieces for our local paper, I have come to appreciate the work involved with providing current, and what I consider, interesting articles.

CBC Radio, forestry journals, websites and suggestions from readers have been some of the many ways I have obtained ideas for my columns.

Editors and contributors to the Logging and Sawmilling Journal provide current information on the industrial, market and research aspect of forestry issues.

Their support comes mainly from the companies that advertise in their bi-monthly journal and website. Environmental concerns are covered by a number of journals, websites and articles in papers and magazines (i.e. Suzuki Foundation and BC Nature.)

Keeping up to date on all of the information coming out can be a challenge, so about 10 years ago Kelly McCloskey and Sandy McKellar launched Tree Frog Creative Communications (now part of Wood N Frog Communications Ltd.) and in 2007 started the Tree Frog Forestry News. As described on their website, the staff of four has collated over 60,000 articles, op-eds, blog entries and industry announcements in a simple format that allows readers to briefly scan daily issues, or read the entire article for more detail.

Their search engine provides access to all the stories in the database, and they also make the point that they read each story and make every effort to remain unbiased in their selection.

I thought it would be interesting to try their search engine and explore some ideas regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the forest industry.

Using the word “pandemic” for my search, I got over 500 hits. Articles in April and May described how companies were dealing with the new restrictions. Stories from the United States were discussing the shortages of lumber by July and August.

READ MORE: Public input should include more categories than just old growth

One of the reasons for the demand was from more people being at home to do renovations, along with continued strong housing starts.

One local builder said piles of lumber are “like gold” right now. A piece that would have been in the $8 or $9 range is now over $25. According to the National Association of Home Builders, in the last four months, lumber prices increased more than 130 per cent, which has raised the price of an average new single-family home by more than $16,000. A statement which is no surprise to B.C. lumber manufactures is that added tariffs on Canadian lumber makes it worse, with some experts indicating that supply and demand problems could continue through at least early November.

Another article from Flint, Texas, describes how the home construction boom in East Texas is at a standstill because the cost of lumber has skyrocketed from $360 per thousand board feet to $900 last week, before dropping back to $830.

Finally, an article by John Greene tries to explain what has allowed a recovery of the low housing starts in March following the pandemic. Like the other readers, I was surprised how the market could recover at all when there are still so many unemployed and uncertainties all over the world regarding a second or third wave of COVID-19.

According to author Greene, Bank of America analysts offer a practical subset of explanations:

“An uneven recession. The shock disproportionately impacted the lower income population, who are less likely to be homeowners. Record low interest rates. Mortgage rates reached a new record low in mid-July. Lean pre-crisis inventory. Inventory was low, home equity was high and debt levels manageable. Pandemic-related relocations. Moving to the suburbs appears to be a real phenomenon.

Despite all of this positive news, there is a concerning dynamic unfolding in the background: Rising delinquency rates among homeowners represent a major headwind for the residential sector.”

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

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