The forestry industry in Alberta is vast. Scattered across 70 communities, it employs 40,000 skilled workers whose “offices” cover approximately 38 million hectares – 60 percent of the province’s total land area – an area slightly larger than the size of Germany. It’s an area that caught the attention of Mercer International.
In early 2019, the American company – which operates pulp mills and sawmills in Germany, Australia and Canada – entered the Alberta forestry industry by acquiring Daishowa-Marubeni International’s Peace River Pulp Division. As a result of this transaction, Mercer International’s annual production capacity for pulp was set to increase by approximately 41 percent to 2.2 million air dry metric tons (ADMTs). As an added bonus, steam generated from processing lumber into pulp at the newly christened Mercer Peace River Ltd. facility produces clean power at 65 megawatts per hour, which is enough to help the mill be self-sufficient for its electricity and export power back to the grid.
Along with the pulp mill near Peace River, which is a town of more than 6,500 people in the treed landscape of northwest Alberta and approximately 500 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, the acquisition included the rights to two Forest Management Areas (FMAs) that cover 2.9 million hectares of forest.
“Northern Alberta offers many advantages for companies,” says Dan Dibbelt, executive director of the Peace Region Economic Development Alliance (PREDA), which is a partnership of 47 communities and organizations guiding economic development in Alberta’s northwest region.
“Our colder climate allows for trees of strong, quality wood with long fibres,” says Dibbelt. “And the region’s terrain provides easy access to transportation pipelines.”
Managing such a vast landscape in a manner that facilitates sustainability and growth is no small feat, and maintaining them is key. These forests capture carbon, maintain the watershed and are home to thousands of wildlife species.
In Alberta, any company that is granted stewardship of an FMA is also responsible for its regeneration. Forestry companies like Mercer are obligated to replace each tree, but often go beyond just replanting what was there. In fact, for every tree that is harvested, an average of two new conifers are planted. Over the last 20 years, this has added up to nearly 2 billion new trees in Alberta’s boreal forest.
Now, less than a year into the purchase of the mill that first opened in 1990, Mercer International continues to elevate the standard.
“From the start, Mercer’s focus has been to continue supporting the community and the environment, and also to optimize and innovate our operations,” says Lindsay Grundy-Kish, human resources manager at Mercer Peace River Pulp.
Not only has the mill been recognized for using sustainably harvested wood with numerous certifications, they’ve done so without compromising quality, as seen with their ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certifications, and by giving back to the community.
Mercer International has continued a partnership agreement with the Woodland Cree First Nation to provide competitively priced, ecologically-based harvesting, chipping and delivery services for Peace River. The mill operator has also partnered with local high schools and post-secondary institutions to support a dual-credit power engineering program that connects students with industry, and provides the skills and training they need for a career upon graduation.
Mercer International’s operational success and commitment to community serves as an example of how partnerships can work to the benefit of both the economy and the environment – a regeneration mechanism for forests and for the industry for years to come.
“It’s not just about business. We live and work in this community and want to see it thrive,” says Grundy-Kish. “Collaborating with the community and Indigenous stakeholders is simply part of the way we operate.”