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Pulp & Paper: Plantation plan with a purpose


November 13, 2016  


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This fall, expect to hear a lot about Canada’s Climate Change Action Plan. Managing climate change is one activity where, unlike the oil and gas and mining industries, the forestry sector is uniquely suited and qualified. That’s because the forest industry manages the fibre resources and land bases than can help to halt and reverse climate change trends.

The Forest Products Association of Canada’s (FPAC) recently announced a program where the forest industry pledges to remove 30 megatonnes (MT) of carbon dioxide per year by 2030. FPAC’s document, entitled 30 by 30 — Climate Change Challenge, has value as a primer to the politicians who will be setting some fairly meaty climate change policies over the next six months, since the federal government has committed to reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 30 per cent — or the equivalent of 225 MT of carbon by 2030.

FPAC says the forest sector’s goal represents a 13 per cent contribution toward that national goal. A read of the document is a reminder of what the forest industry has been doing by way of research and development and investment for the past 20 years. To some extent, it asks politicians not to pick on the forest sector in its upcoming deliberations, as there is strong evidence that it already is doing its part. It appears FPAC has set the industry bar low, especially with so many opportunities that could create new income and cost savings for forest companies while contributing even more toward Canada’s GHG reduction target.

Yet it’s crucial for a more aggressive target to have a potential financial payback to industry. History has shown if forest companies see no opportunity to make or save money in any climate change venture, don’t count on the sector’s participation. Take, for example, the work of Alberta- Pacific Forest Industries (Al-Pac) in partnership with Alberta Innovates over the last five years to streamline the commercial production of cellulose nanocrystals.

Through the Alberta Bio Future program, it recently received financial support for two important projects related to advancing this novel biomaterial toward full, commercial scale-up. One project is related to reducing CNC production costs by reusing the spent sulfuric acid in the pulp mill’s bleach plant. The other is related to testing novel process enhancements to improve CNC yield and quality while creating an end product that is economical to transport.

The projects received total funding of $500,000. Al-Pac added another $290,000, for a total investment of nearly $800,000 for these two projects. “Without this work, the CNC program in Alberta would not proceed beyond this stage, as neither the economics of production, nor the product quality would have been sufficient to warrant continued development,” says Geoff Clarke, program lead of bio-product development at Al-Pac.

“To provide suitable benefit back to Al-Pac, the forest industry and the province, we must provide a competitive product that provides exceptional value to the market.”

So, like Alberta’s CNC program, any initiative to involve the forest industry further to lead even more on GHG reduction has to make financial sense. One area that has never been explored seriously by industry, provincial governments or the federal government is the role carefully managed forest plantations on private land can play as a part of a forest company’s fibre supply management program. This role can help create carbon sinks to help governments meet GHG reduction goals, and for maintaining healthy forests.

While tree farming is common practice in many other parts of the world, rarely has it ever been discussed seriously in Canada as a potential economic opportunity and tool to battle climate change. The payback is more than just the potential for an expanded fibre supply for industry and creation of carbon sinks. Canada has a problem. Our forests are becoming unhealthy. Because of more intensive forest management over the past 40 years, we are losing considerable biodiversity in our natural forests.

FPAC says current forest management practices has resulted in only a 0.02 per cent rate of deforestation. While Canada’s policy of planting at least one tree for every tree harvested is admirable, what it doesn’t consider is how intensive forest management is actually changing Canada’s forests. “As forest management evolved, more intensive and advanced forest management activities started to take place,” says Derek Sidders, CWFC regional co-ordinator and program manager at the Northern Forestry Centre in Edmonton.

“A change has been imposed on the forest in terms of species mix, densities, growth, productivity and vigour.”

He adds Canada has 40 years of intensive forest management under its belt and an average of about 800,000 hectares per year harvested during that time period. That’s where a well-developed plantation program can deliver additional benefits. As a starting point, the federal government’s GHG reduction strategy could provide financial incentives that encourage development of more partnerships between forest companies and private landowners to plant trees for use in forest operations. It could develop formulas to reduce a company’s stumpage fee based upon the percentage of natural forest it leaves intact within its Forest Management Area (FMA) by partnering with private landowners to establish plantations.

Instead of paying a stumpage fee, the company would simply transfer that saving to the cost of purchasing the wood from the private landowner in regular instalments or at maturity. The federal government could also make changes to the tax code where private landowners could claim a tax credit for partnering with forest companies on plantation projects.

And there is the potential for private landowners and/or forest companies to engage in selling the carbon credits derived from the plantation.

About the author: Tony Kryzanowski writes a bout forestry, alternative energy, and natural sciences for a variety of national and international publications, and is headquartered in St. Albert, Alta.