Forestry: By the Numbers

There are 38 million hectares of forest in Alberta – a land area slightly larger than the size of Germany – which makes up 58 percent of the total land area of the province. The many species of coniferous and deciduous trees that make up the harvest are known for being lightweight and high-strength lumber. Alberta’s forestry sector has worked diligently to diversify over the years and the province’s sought-after wood products are more than just lumber. The industry produces a diverse suite of products from engineered wood products to pulp, paper and bioproducts that are exported around the world.

By the Numbers

  • 44,000 Number of Albertans employed directly in the forestry sector and in supporting occupations
  • $6.5 billion Annual industry revenue from harvesting operations and the sale of lumber, pulp, newsprint, wood panels, engineered wood products, bioenergy and ecosystem services
  • $4.1 billion Export revenue from Alberta’s forest products to markets, such as the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Europe/li>
  • 3-4 Seedlings regenerating for each tree harvested as part of Alberta’s sustainable forest management practices

Source: Government of Alberta

Of the forested area, about 70 percent (or 26.1 million hectares) is considered suitable for harvest and the province’s current allowable annual cut of 31 million cubic metres requires harvesting just a fraction of the forested land base. The province works closely with the industry and communities to determine environmental stewardship policies and sustainable forest management practices, while Alberta’s forest companies are leaders in the development and employment of innovative technologies and products, providing the industry with a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

West Fraser Alberta Mills Go Solar

In March 2020, West Fraser signed an agreement to power its Alberta mills using electricity generated from the 24.5-megawatt Prairie Sunlight II Solar Project.

The solar farm is owned by innogy – a European-based renewable energy operator – and located near the Town of Vauxhall, approximately 90 kilometres northeast of Lethbridge in southern Alberta. The renewable power agreement assists West Fraser to better manage energy supply during peak sawmill loading conditions, providing economic, renewable power to the company’s Alberta sawmills.

The solar farm was connected to Alberta’s main electricity grid in July 2020 and the 10-year agreement provides power price certainty and an estimated annual contribution of more than 45,000 megawatt-hours of carbon-free energy.

Alberta Takes Wood Building Construction to New Heights

In January 2020, Alberta became the first jurisdiction in Canada to permit 12-storey wood buildings province-wide. The change increased the permissible limit for wood buildings in Alberta from six to 12 storeys.

“The Government of Alberta is to be commended for taking action to promote Alberta jobs and support local business,” says Paul Whittaker, president and CEO of the Alberta Forest Products Association (AFPA). “By becoming a leader in wood construction, we are adding value to our resources right here. We are also creating public spaces and homes that Albertans will cherish for generations.”

Many components of tall wood buildings are prefabricated offsite, meaning wood buildings can be assembled more quickly, with less noise and disruption to neighbours. The AFPA estimates the market for wood buildings of seven to 12 storeys in Canada to be approximately 27 million sq ft and tall wood construction in Alberta has the potential to consume $40 million of locally produced lumber each year.

Record-Breaking Lumber Prices Boost Forestry Sector

While the COVID-19 pandemic initially reduced demand for pulp and paper products in 2020, a quick resurgence in forest product demand saw Alberta’s forestry sector reach record-breaking solid wood prices at $1,288 per thousand board feet for western spruce-pine-fir in October 2020. Prices for lumber, oriented strand board and plywood also saw a profound recovery from April lows, with benchmark prices increasing between 125 and 215 percent.

Many jurisdictions saw reduced production levels leading up to and resulting from the pandemic that proved difficult to reverse as demand for wood products ended up outperforming expectations. In contrast, Alberta saw limited production curtailments during this time, maintaining a competitive advantage.

“We commend the Government of Alberta for recognizing that a strong forest industry is part of the solution. Forestry sustains well-paying jobs at a time when our economy is challenged, manages our forests to make them more resilient to pests like mountain pine beetle, and sequesters carbon in our finished products,” says Janis Simpkins, senior vice-president and environmental chair with the Alberta Forest Products Association.