MONCTON, NB — New Brunswick is eyeing initiatives in British Columbia, Quebec and nationally that encourage using wood in construction and design.

According to Canadian Press, the goal is to stimulate demand for lumber. The New Brunswick Forest Products Assn., Business New Brunswick and University of New Brunswick researchers are on board to look at creating a Wood First task force to examine barriers and opportunities at home for increasing wood use.

British Columbia’s Liberal government made its Wood First Act law last year, specifying that wood be used as a primary building material for all provincially funded buildings. According to the law’s explanatory note, its intent is to facilitate “a culture of wood for construction in British Columbia.”

The national government also changed the provincial building code last April to allow residential buildings of up to six stories to be framed in wood; the national code only allows for up to four stories of wood framing in homes.. The Quebec government has made similar moves in mandating wood use in public buildings.

Nationally, the Canadian Wood Council leads a campaign called Wood Works to increase the use of wood in commercial, industrial and institutional construction, with funding support from industry, Ottawa and provincial governments.

U.S. housing woes felt in NB
In New Brunswick and across Canada, the wood industry has struggled. Demand for lumber dropped off when U.S. housing starts began declining about four years ago; sawmills in New Brunswick started shutting down or churning out less. A sawmill survey by the forest products association last summer showed the worst numbers on record — about one-sixth of all 64 provincial sawmills were operating at full capacity.

And according to New Brunswick Department of Finance statistics, employment in the wood sector declined by 22.7 percent from January to September of 2009 from the same period the year before: 3,960 workers were then directly employed in the sector, versus 5,122 in the first eight months of 2008.

The industry is a major contributor to the province’s economy, though. According to the forest products association, 14 communities across the province depend entirely on forestry operations to survive while 50 others rely heavily on their local sawmills and pulp and paper mills to maintain their economic viability. The entire forest industry contributes about 13,000 direct jobs across the province, the association says, and the value of forest products shipments in 2008 was $1.25 billion.

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