| Jan 12, 2006

Feature Article - January 12, 2006

Feature Article

January 12, 2006

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Forest values are changing

commentary by Gray Merriam

Peter Salonius, a forest economist in New Brunswick, has written recently that New Brunswick forest owners and operators should be expecting significant changes in value for the various materials that their forest can produce. Prices for forest 'waste products' such as sawdust and bark are already approaching the price of pulpwood, a traditional product.

The key is that those 'waste products' are combustible. That is, they can be burned instead of petroleum fuels. The recent increase in petroleum prices was once thought to be temporary but no more. High oil and gas prices are here to stay (and probably will even increase gradually). Consequently prices of wood products are shifting.


Firewood is potentially the cheapest combustible fuel. Cost of 1000 BTU's, a measure of the heat produced, was, in October 2005: $.012 for natural gas, .028 for propane, .021 for fuel oil, .026 for electric heat, and .010 for hardwood. For an average house with good heating equipment, the Ontario Ministry of Energy estimates that annual heating costs would be less than half for wood compared to oil.

This sharp shift in value of fuelwood, together with the increasing shortage of good, cured hardwood near centres of population, has raised the price of wood to as much as $125 for a face-cord commonly. Value of a full-cord goes above $400 in areas of short supply. Poorer quality fuelwood such as soft maple and ash, and poorly cured wood is common on today's market in price cutting attempts. Fuelwood is approaching the price of some classes of dimensional lumber. Species and cuts of timber that are rejected from conventional markets can be valuable fuel.

These shifts in values are forcing rethinking of forest management plans. Intensive management aimed at species favoured by the market in dimensional lumber or in pulp is being replaced by management aimed at a diversity of species. Not only are conventional forest products losing their price advantage but they are expected to become less profitable because their markets usually are far from the forest. The increased cost of fuel for transport will reduce the profit margin and support the shift to local markets.

So, for best profits, forest managers are being told to move toward forest cutting and regeneration methods that will produce a more diverse forest with high production of forest biomass that can be used locally and, particularly, forest biomass that can be used as fuel.

Local forests can be very productive of firewood but we need to relearn some of the common knowledge of past times. What species make good fuel, what to harvest and what to leave in the bush, and how to get regrowth for future harvests. Above all, we need to learn the real market value for the products of our forests.

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