Controversies over lumber products

Solar Home Chronicles 12

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Eric is a Maritimer, born and bred. I have lived here for 16 years. As a “come-from-away-er”, I have learned that, in order to understand Maritimers and the Maritime economy, you have to understand both the fishery and the forestry industries. Over hundreds of years, the economy of this region has depended upon its renewable natural resources.

In recent years, the lumber industry of New Brunswick has made many headlines. There have been mill closures, threats of mill closures, conflicts over Native forestry, and heated opinions regarding multi-national companies and the Irving family in their involvement in the forestry industry. Less prominent have been the small woodlot owners – the families that manage smaller areas of woods, over many generations. In New Brunswick, 30% of our forests are privately owned, 20% is industrial freehold land, and 50% is Crown Lands.

In June, The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) of Canada, Maritime Steering Committee wrote a report on best forestry practices. The preamble to this report included the following: “Throughout the Acadian forest region the natural character of the forest has been altered through repeated harvesting activities. Practices such as high grading and the inappropriate use of clear-cutting have typically focused on extracting the immediate economic value of the forest rather than maintaining its natural diversity or long term economic value. In much of the region these practices continue to be commonplace. In some cases forest stewardship has maintained many of the natural elements of the Acadian Forest, but original forests or those having characteristics of old growth forests are very rare. The extensive impacts that have occurred in the Acadian Forest have caused the region to be declared as one of Canada’s endangered forest regions.”

The discovery that our region’s forests are endangered is quite sobering. To know that originally, our region was home to trees that were hundreds of years old, standing hundreds of feet tall, is amazing. I wonder if we could ever return to such grand diversity again.

In choosing building materials for our solar home, our priority is to use wood that is, at the very least, harvested from sustainable woodlots. Usually, this means that the wood is cut selectively (i.e. trees are chosen individually, after they have grown to a good size) and the natural diversity of the woodland is maintained. Another priority for us is to buy from local woodlot owners. This helps our local economy, encourages sustainable forestry and also reduces the amount of fossil fuels burned in transporting the lumber to our job site.

We called up the Maritime Forest Stewardship Council to enquire about how to get ahold of local, sustainable lumber. They were pleased to hear from us, and remarked that we were the first project in the Maritimes to request FSC-certified wood for a whole building. To date, they had only supplied small amounts for smaller projects. We also asked them how much more we would pay for this lumber. We were told that we would be offered prices competitive with the certified wood available at our local lumber store (this other certified wood can be from almost anywhere in the world – not just local – and could be certified under different specifications than our Maritime FSC). This sounded great to us.

Our house will also require additional lumber – sheathing, siding and trim – and these products are less easily bought through local sustainable woodlots. Products like OSB (oriented strand board) are manufactured using any size or type of wood – often chipped from smaller, clear-cut trees. Environmentalists can tell horror stories regarding the circumstances of how this product is made. Plywood is also a manufactured product, and so cannot be bought straight from the local small mill. The cedar that we would like to use as siding is no longer available in our region – the cedar trees left in the Maritimes are too small for vertical siding. Tongue-and-groove boards for sheathing should be available at least locally, if not from sustainable woodlots.

So, it looks like our house will not be built entirely with FSC-certified wood. But we hope that what we do use helps to encourage good forestry practices, validates the efforts of highly-principled woodlot owners, and also makes our home a healthy place to live. A friend suggested that, with such good intentions and building materials, our home will have `very good karma’. I certainly hope so!

Next time: The count down to start …