Lumber News Archives: July 2013

Softwood Lumber Board Update ; US Housing Starts, Builder Sentiment ; BC Forest Practices Board Report ; Canada Wholesale Trade North American Trucking Crisis ; Madison’s Timber Preview ; Housing Starts, Canada ; Japan Housing Starts ; US Producer Price Index ; Structurlam Funding ; Canwell Acquires . . . Forestry and Sustainability ; Babine Sawmill Rebuild ; Canada’s Trade Confidence ; US Forest Policy Discussions ; US Economy, Jobs ;BC Wildfire Management ; Madison’s Investment Rx ; Madison’s Timber Preview ; Sawmill Fire ; Domtar’s White River Mill to Restart ; Resolute Selects Sawmill Site ; Colorado WildfireForest Certification ; Sawmill, Panel Mill Curtailments ; US Wildfires ; Canadian Flooding Hampers CP Rail ; Home Sales, Pricing, US ;

July 31, 2013

Softwood Lumber Board Update

(Reprinted from the Softwood Lumber Board’s latest newsletter, July 16)

After just 12 months of funding programs, we are starting to see positive impacts from the SLB’s strategic investment in softwood lumber market development. By promoting softwood lumber’s value proposition directly to design professionals and decision- makers, the SLB and its funded programs are putting softwood lumber firmly back on the table with its competitors and converting projects and entire firms to wood. Wood offers viable solutions to the economic and environmental challenges of the built environment, making it a superior choice.

To maximize efficiency, the SLB ensures that our funded programs complement and reinforce one another and that together they address all segments of the consumer end of the softwood lumber value chain. Thus, the American Wood Council creates new opportunities for wood and protects existing ones within U.S. building standards; reThink Wood raises broad awareness of opportunities and gets softwood lumber back in the conversation of specifiers; and WoodWorks transforms these conversations into action by working directly with architects, engineers, and developers to convert projects to wood-based building systems. In addition, the SLB supports the National Frame Building Association to promote wood in post- frame buildings and low-rise construction. The SLB’s strategic funding has enabled each program partner to expand its reach and to undertake exciting new initiatives to protect and expand opportunities for using wood in an increasing array of building types.

Program Committee Update

One of SLB’s most significant and exciting investments in its first year has been a tall wood building research project, undertaken with noted architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP. While it is unlikely that tall wood buildings will become the norm in the near term, this research project and a growing, broader interest in tall wood buildings will break down barriers in the minds of regulators, developers, designers, and ultimately the public about what is possible with wood. The existence of tall wood buildings will dismantle traditional assumptions about the strength, combustibility, longevity, and applica- tions of wood products. Over time, this will result in considerably more wood buildings in the six- to 12-story range. There is already a clear shift in the mind-sets of many thought leaders within the building sectors. The SLB’s role is to accelerate the process and convert thoughts and ideas into action.

Please see pie chart on Page 9.

Beyond its funded projects, the SLB is also working with top research and communications firms to develop retail- focused messaging to promote the benefits of softwood lumber directly to consumers and address barriers to purchase. This effort will benefit all softwood lumber products but particularly those in the treated wood and appearance lumber business.

During the past six months, the SLB has made progress in developing credible, relevant, and transparent performance metrics for each program in which we invest—a first for industry-funded initiatives. This will enable the SLB to report on both soft and hard metrics for each program, using indicators specifically tailored to each program’s unique objectives and target audiences. The SLB’s dashboards will continue to be refined and improved as we work toward quantifying the combined impact of all SLB-funded programs by the end of 2013.

The SLB’s efforts and the dedication of industry professionals are raising wood’s profile to a level not seen in decades, particularly among the design community. Wood’s competition is taking notice, and now concrete masonry is pursuing a check-off and the metal industry is unveiling new marketing measures to enhance its brand identity.

The SLB and its funded programs are committed to sustaining wood’s momentum and pushing wood’s agenda forward, including by expanding the reach of our programs and the SLB overall. Why? Because increased awareness of softwood lumber’s value proposition and its role in the modern economy is essential to protecting and growing wood’s market share.

US Housing Starts, Builder Sentiment

Led by a 26 per cent drop in the volatile multi-unit category, June housing starts in the US declined by 9.9 per cent from a month earlier to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 836,000 units. Compared to one year ago, total US housing starts in June are up 10.4 per cent and permits are up 16.1 per cent.

In a report released Wednesday, the Commerce Department said building permits fell by by 7.5 per cent, due to a 21 per cent drop in multi-unit building. That was the sharpest drop in more than two years.

New building of single-family units was essentially flat compared to May.

Home builders, meanwhile, believe the US housing market is strengthening. The National Association of Home Builders said Tuesday that its housing-market index surged six points to a reading of 57 in July. That marked the third straight month of rising confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes. The index is now at its highest level since January 2006, near the height of the housing boom.

Housing Starts,
Construction, US

New housing starts in the US were down in all four regions in June, with big declines in the Northeast, South and the Midwest.
The interest on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was 4.51 per cent as of Thursday, more than a percentage point higher than the level in early May. Rates are stilllow historically, but some people in the real-estate industry fear that if rates continue to rise significantly, home sales will slow and be a drag on the broader economy.

Meanwhile, total US private residential construction spending increased to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of US$328.6 billion in May 2013, the fastest pace of residential construction since October 2008, said the National Association of Home Builders’ Eye on Housing blog July 11. The reading is 1.2 per cent above the positively revised April estimate and 22 per cent higher over a year ago.

All three components of residential construction spending registered gains. New multifamily construction spending showed the largest increase, rising 2.5 per cent since April and 51.7 per cent since May 2012. Demand for multifamily remains strong, with real rents up 1.1 per cent over the past year.

Spending on new single-family homes increased to an annual rate of US$166.3 billion, a rate unseen since August 2008. On a year-over-year basis, new single-family construction spending increased 33.2 per cent.

Breaking the decline that started in January 2013, home improvement spending also registered gains, the NAHB said. Remodeling spending increased to an annual rate of US$124.2 billion, 1.9 per cent above the April reading, 7 per cent above the year ago, but still below the spending rate registered during the first quarter of 2012.

BC Forest Practices Board Report

Inspections of forestry operations on public land in British Columbia have dropped to one third of the number carried out three years ago, meaning government has little idea whether companies are complying with environmental laws, the Forest Practices Board says.

“The board is concerned that, with the steep drop in inspections, licensees’ activities may not be inspected enough, particularly harvesting and road activities that pose a high risk of harm to resource values,” said the Board, which acts as BC’s independent forestry watchdog.

“Inspections hold licensees accountable and help maintain high standards on the ground. If licensees’ activities are not inspected, the public’s confidence in the effectiveness of government’s oversight may be diminished,” the report says.

Forest Practices Board Release

The Board found that over the past several years, “there’s been a fairly significant reduction in the inspections of those kinds of activities. It’s down to about one-third (compared to three years earlier). Government is still doing lots of inspections, but they’re including a broader range of things (including non-forestry inspections).”

The non-forestry activities inspectors are now involved in, the report said, include inspecting dams, recreation activities and illegal structures like cabins and docks.

“For the year ending March 31, 2012, the number of inspections of forest and range activities was about 5,000, which is 58 per cent of all inspections but only a third of the inspections done three years ago (2009),” the report, entitled Monitoring Licensees’ Compliance with Legislation, noted.

The report noted that for range activities, issues were often resolved informally with ranchers and officers’ attention was diverted to other agencies requesting assistance.

The Board is recommending improvements to how government records industry compliance.

Canada Wholesale Trade

Canadian wholesale sales rose 2.3 per cent to $50.3 billion in May, the largest rate of growth since the beginning of 2011, said Statistics Canada Thursday. The increase was largely due to higher sales in the agricultural supplies industry and the food industry.

In volume terms, wholesale sales were up 2.4 per cent. Sales increased in all subsectors in May. The miscellaneous subsector and the food, beverage and tobacco subsector accounted for more than 70 per cent of the growth.

Inventories were unchanged at $61.8 billion in May, after rising 0.5 per cent in April.

Declines, mainly in the miscellaneous subsector, down 2.1 per cent and the machinery, equipment and supplies subsector, down 1.5 per cent, were offset by 1.7 per cent increases in the personal and household goods subsector and the motor vehicle and parts subsector.

Canada Wholesale Trade

Canadian wholesale sales rose 2.3 per cent to $50.3 billion in May, the largest rate of growth since the beginning of 2011, said Statistics Canada Thursday. The increase was largely due to higher sales in the agricultural supplies industry and the food industry.

In volume terms, wholesale sales were up 2.4 per cent. Sales increased in all subsectors in May. The miscellaneous subsector and the food, beverage and tobacco subsector accounted for more than 70 per cent of the growth.

Inventories were unchanged at $61.8 billion in May, after rising 0.5 per cent in April.

Declines, mainly in the miscellaneous subsector, down 2.1 per cent and the machinery, equipment and supplies subsector, down 1.5 per cent, were offset by 1.7 per cent increases in the personal and household goods subsector and the motor vehicle and parts subsector.

Wholesale Trade,

Wholesalers in Ontario contributed the most to the national increase, said StatsCan. Ontario registered a 2.7 per cent rise in wholesale sales.
Sales rose 9.2 per cent in Manitoba, mainly as a result of higher sales in the agricultural supplies industry, which accounts for almost a quarter of the province’s wholesale sales.

The only decline occurred in Prince Edward Island, where sales were down 2.8 per cent.

Madison’s Investment Rx

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July 24, 2013

North American Trucking Crisis

An aging workforce, pay rates, working conditions, safety, and other issues are poised to put a crimp on the business of trucking in North America. Many of the looming problems have been a concern to players for about a decade, but seemed to become less urgent during the economic downturn of 2007 to 2011. Now that North America’s forest products industry is moving toward recovery, those issues are back in focus.

“We have 50 per cent of enrollment now compared to what we had in 2005,” said Don Bailey, owner of Fox Professional Driving School based in Prince George, BC, to Madison’s in a phone interview Monday. “Enrollment was slowly declining since 2000, by 2010 it was down by 50 per cent.”

According to Bailey’s information, about 60 per cent of truckers in BC are of retirement age right now.

“It used to be that trucks were 60 per cent company-owned/40 per cent owner-operator; now the ratio of owner-operator has dropped to 30 per cent,” detailed Bailey.

Bailey’s business is focussed on highway haulers and general freight, but the data bears out for the forest industry as well.

Explained Mary-Anne Arcand, Executive Director of the Central Interior Loggers Association, to Madison’s in an email Wednesday, “We have probably lost 1/3 to 1/2 of our trucks, but that would be mostly anecdotal. [ . . . ] For logging, I can only say that our membership diminished by 50 per cent over the last 10 years, due to consolidation.”

Equipment, Driver Shortage

According to the Canadian Trucking Alliance website, the trucking industry as a whole generated an estimated $67 billion in revenues in 2005. With respect to trucking firms, in 2006, general freight carriers accounted for 57 per cent of the for-hire revenues of the industry. Truck carriers with annual revenues of $12 million or more accounted for 57 per cent of the for-hire trucking industry.

A Conference Board of Canada report, ‘Understanding the Truck Driver Supply and Demand Gap and Its Implications for the Canadian Economy‘, released in March states that there are over 300,000 truck drivers in Canada today, which includes both drivers in the for-hire trucking industry and those drivers engaged in private trucking activity. As well, the demand for truck drivers will increase as industries that rely on trucking services continue to grow. By 2020, the gap between the supply and demand of drivers is expected to be 25,000, but this number could exceed 33,000, said the Conference Board report.

Data from the National Household Survey (NHS) released Tuesday found that the average age of a truck driver is 46, higher than the previous age of 44, and significantly higher than the national worker average of 41.5. The NHS, which is conducted by Statistics Canada, used data from a 2011 survey that replaced the previous information from the 2006 long-form census. The Conference Board of Canada analyzed the results of this new survey and found a drop in truck drivers ages 20 to 29 — 11.6 per cent in 2006 versus 8.8 per cent in 2011. The number of drivers between 30 and 34 has also dropped. In 2006, they made up 10 per cent of drivers, whereas now they are just 8.5 per cent. Driver population in the 50 to 55 bracket has spiked to 26 per cent, up from 20 per cent in 2006.

Alberta has a slightly younger workforce with the average driver age being 44.9 years. Meanwhile, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Manitoba all share an average of 47 years old.

The data found that truck driver is still the most common occupation among Canadian men, after retail sales person. Ontario is home to the most drivers in the country with over 92,000. Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia sit at 57,000, 39,000 and 32,000 respectively.

According to the latest study from the American Trucking Association, released this week, truck freight tonnage in the US jumped 2.3 per cent in May, compared to April, and posted the highest level on record. The measure of freight-hauling activity was up 6.7 per cent over May 2012. Bob Costello, the organization’s Chief Economist, said “heavy loads” such as construction materials and items used for fracking are outpacing “box trailer” cargo. He said the forecast projects trucking’s share of tonnage will rise to 70.8 per cent by 2024, from 68.5 per cent in 2012.

Meanwhile, trucking lost 3,500 jobs in June, while US employers added 195,000 workers to payrolls, the US Labor Department reported Monday. The US trucking industry lost 2,400 jobs in May, which was a bigger loss than the 700 drop originally reported, revisions showed. The transportation sector, which includes trucking, lost 5,100 jobs in June, according to Labor figures. The for-hire trucking industry had a total of 1,379,700 jobs in June — a roughly 30,300 job increase over June 2012.

The industry has 145,700 jobs — an 11.8 per cent increase — from March 2010s bottom. However, the industry remains about 73,700 jobs below January 2007s peak.

The US Bureau of Labor estimates truck drivers will see an employment growth of 21 per cent by 2020.

Elsewhere, FTR’s Trucking Conditions Index for May at 12.4 is unchanged from the previous month, continuing to reflect a positive environment for trucking, the company said Wednesday. The TCI is designed to summarize a full collection of industry metrics, with a reading above zero indicating a generally positive environment for truckers. Readings above 10, as they are now, signal that volumes, prices, and margins are likely to be in a solidly favourable range for trucking companies.

For it’s part, California’s Long Beach City College has partnered with the Harbor Trucking Association (HTA) to offer a curriculum that addressed the shortage of licensed, short-haul truck drivers qualified to transport goods in and out of the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, CA. This particular program aims to bridge the gap in the number of trucking jobs available now with licensed drivers.

Madison’s reached out to newly-appointed Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, Shirley Bond, for information about what the BC government can do to increase the number of truck drivers in the province.

“The logging industry in BC is a key industry in this province and we want to make sure that British Columbians have the right skills to capitalize on the sector’s opportunities,” said Bond in an emailed statement Wednesday. ” In addition to new jobs, as many as 25,000 job openings are expected across the forestry sector as existing workers retire, many in trucking. Our government is aware of the shortage in log haulers and lumber truckers and that’s why we have invested nearly $1 million and trained 60 people with the Central Interior Loggers Association to undertake the Forest Industry Readiness Skills Training (FIRST) program.

“This is a big challenge and one that government can’t fix on its own. We need all parties to come to the table and work together to help close this skills gap. That means industry needs to invest in training as well, it means changing parents’ and students’ perceptions around what career paths our young people are choosing, and it means colleges and universities need to work at aligning their programs to what employers and the labour market need. We believe that by working with industry, parents, students and post-secondary institutions, we will make the right investments.”

Madison’s Timber Preview

The US Forest Service indicated at the end of 2012 that there will be a 20 per cent increase in timber harvesting on federal lands in the next few years. A US Congressman plans to table a federal bill in August to boost timber harvesting in national forests. Wisconsin and Montana have just released the latest data on timber harvest, lumber production, and state revenue. Oregon is close to passing legislation allowing counties to increase taxes in lieu of revenue which previously came from the timber harvest on park lands.

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Housing Starts, Canada

Canadian housing starts were stronger than expected in June, and May figures were revised higher, according to data released on Tuesday. The trend is a six-month moving average of the monthly seasonally adjusted annual rates of housing starts.

The seasonally adjusted annualized rate of housing starts was 199,586 units in June, according to data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. Seasonally adjusted urban starts decreased by 2.7 per cent in June to 177,085 units, as both the single and multiple urban starts segments declined in June.
Meanwhile, contractors took out building permits worth $7.3 billion in May, up 4.5 per cent from April, said Statistics Canada Monday. The total value of building permits continued to trend upward on the strength of five consecutive monthly increases.

Canada Housing Starts

The data showed starts of single urban homes decreased by 4.1 per cent, to 62,743 units in June. The multiple urban starts segment, which includes Toronto’s once-booming condominium sector, decreased by 2 per cent to 114,342 units.

June’s seasonally adjusted annual rate of urban starts increased in British Columbia. Urban starts decreased in all other regions, including Atlantic Canada, Ontario, Quebec and the Prairies.

Rural starts were estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 22,501 units in June.

Elsewhere, residential sector permit values increased 4.2 per cent to $4.6 billion in May, according to StatsCan. This advance followed a 21.6 per cent gain in April and was the third consecutive monthly increase. The value of residential building permits was up in seven provinces led largely by Ontario, followed by Alberta and Nova Scotia. BC posted the largest decline.

In the non-residential sector, the value of building permits rose 5 per cent to $2.8 billion in May. Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba were behind most of the growth at the national level. Declines were recorded in Alberta, New Brunswick and BC.

In the industrial component, the value of permits rose 37.4 per cent to $612 million in May. This was the third increase in four months.

Japan Housing Starts

May housing starts in Japan increased by 14.5 per cent from one year ago, to 79,751 units, as housing starts in that country continue to improve, according to the Japan Lumber Reports.

Seasonally adjusted starts were 1.03 million, a 9.4 per cent increase over April, and the first time since October 2008 that Japan housing starts topped 1 million.
Observers note that there has obviously been a rush of buying in advance of a consumption tax increase.

Housing Starts, Japan

May condominium starts in Japan increased by more than 30 per cent over one year ago, while units built for owners jumped for the ninth consecutive month, says the Japan Lumber Reports.
Owner’s units, rentals, and units built for sale all increased by double digits.

New building of wood-based units were 43,000, a 53.9 per cent share of the total and a 12.6 per cent improvement over May 2012.

US Producer Price Index

US producer prices rose more than expected in June. The Labor Department said Friday its seasonally adjusted producer price index increased 0.8 per cent last month, the largest gain since September.

Producer Prices, US

So-called core producer prices, which strip out volatile energy and food costs, rose 0.2 per cent last month, boosted by a 0.8 per cent increase in the price of passenger cars.

Core prices at the wholesale level rose 1.7 per cent in the 12 months through June, matching the gain in the previous month.
The data sends a reassuring signal that demand is still strong enough to push prices higher.

Structurlam Funding

What some are referring to as the world’s most sophisticated panel-cutting robot has arrived in Okanagan Falls, BC, said AM1150 Monday.

The federal government of Canada is chipping in $2 million for an addition to Structurlam Products plant, which includes cross-laminated timber panels that will be cut, drilled, and notched by the robot.

The robot has been imported from Germany and allows the company to cost-effectively manufacture cross-laminated timber walls, which is the key to tall wood buildings that are up to 12 stories high.

The cross-laminated plant is one of only two in North America.

Canwell Acquires . . .

CanWel Building Materials Group Ltd. has completed the acquisition of 100 per cent of all outstanding shares of privately held Pastway Planing, the company said in a press release.

Pastway’s pressure treating and planing operations are located in Combermere, ON. As a result of this acquisition, CanWel’s assets now include six operating treating plants, three planer facilities and 18 distribution centres strategically located across Canada. The purchase price for the acquisition will be satisfied fully from the Company’s existing credit facilities.

July 17, 2013

Forestry and Sustainability

The International Council of Forest and Paper Associations (ICFPA) points to the Canadian forest industry’s excellent environmental credentials in its 2013 Sustainability Progress report, released June 15.

ICFPA is an organization of national and regional forest and paper industry associations, whose purpose is to serve as a forum of global dialogue, coordination, and cooperation among it’s member associations. It also provides member association executives opportunities to discuss issues of interest to the international forest and paper industry, such as: sustainable forestry standards; climate change; and, the environmentally preferable nature of forest products. ICFPA activities do not include business promotion.

The ICFPA has consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and its statements include positions on illegal logging, sustainable forestry management, forest plantations, climate change and sustainability.

The ICFPA and its members have made strong and clear commitments to sustainable development and to working with other stakeholders in ensuring that environmental, social, and economic benefits of forest resources are available to current and future generations. Since the signing of the historic CEO Leadership Statement on Sustainability in 2006, ICFPA has published a biennial report on its members’ progress and performance in areas such as climate change, sustainable forest management, fighting illegal logging, and investments in workers and communities.

In addition to reporting on performance, this 4th edition of the Sustainability Progress Report describes how the forest and paper industry is supporting a green economy through five key areas: resource efficiency, bio-based products, innovative technologies, carbon sequestration, and improved well-being of communities.

Global Report, 2013

The latest ICFPA global forum notes that the forest sector in Canada has more than 150 million hectares of independently certified forest, or 40 per cent of the global total; that between 2007 to 2011 Canada dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions by 21 per cent; that energy use went down by 32 per cent between 2005 to 2011; and that in that same time period, Canada’s forest sector reduced the amount of waste sent to landfill by 30 per cent, slashed particulate matter and sodium oxide by 56 per cent and total suspended solids by 72 per cent.

The progress report also noted that the Canadian forest industry has pledged to be carbon neutral industry-wide by 2015.

“We welcome the acknowledgement that Canada’s forest sector has a positive environmental record that continues to improve,” says the President and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC), David Lindsay. “We do not intend to rest on our laurels but under our Vision2020, we are aiming to further reduce our environmental footprint by an additional 35 per cent by the end of the decade.”

The ICFPA also noted that FPAC is one of the global players that is developing strategies to help the sector transition towards the green economy with initiatives such as the Bio-Pathways Partnership Network.

Canada’s vision for making innovative products from wood fibre using nano-science was acknowledged in the report as well. For example, the report noted that FPInnovations brought in the world’s first state-of-the-art demonstration plant that produced nano-crystalline cellulose from wood fibre for use in everything from bone replacement to cosmetics.

“Canadian mills are continuing to look at pioneering ways to extract more value from every tree in the form of innovative bio-products,” says Lindsay. “It’s rewarding to see this international forum recognize our growing contribution to the green economy.”

Looking at the US, American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) members have reduced GHG emissions intensity by 10.5 per cent since 2005. From 2000 to 2010, AF&PA members’ absolute GHG emissions decreased 40 per cent – a major improvement from the previous reporting period where absolute GHG emissions dropped 26.5 per cent between 2000 and 2008. The drop was a result of a combination of lower production, increased efficiency and greater use of forest biomass.

Nearly two-thirds of the energy used at member-company pulp and paper mills is generated from carbon neutral biomass, which has captured and sequestered carbon during the timber growing cycle. In addition, industry efforts to increase society’s paper recovery rate are reducing the amount of paper products being sent to landfills that contribute to GHG emissions as they decompose.

“Ours is a diverse industry that contributes to the economic development and social well-being of communities across the globe,” said Donna Harman, president and CEO of the AF&PA and president of the ICFPA. “Our global industry is working every day to improve our practices to ensure that we deliver sustainably-produced, renewable, natural products to our domestic and global customers. We are proud of our accomplishments and look forward to future progress as we contribute to sustainable development through new products and services in a green economy.”

AF&PA’s sustainability initiative, Better Practices, Better Planet 2020, includes the goal to reduce the industry’s GHG emissions intensity by at least 15 per cent by 2020.

As for Europe, the ICFPA report notes that the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) is a member of third-party forest certifiers FSC International and the PEFC Council. Most recently, CEPI tabled motions at the general assembly of FSC in Malaysia to lift the distinction made between pre- and post-consumer recycled fibre, considered to be not relevant in today’s industry as all types of paper are recycled.

In 2010, the total surface of certified forests in the CEPI countries reached 86 million hectares (taking into consideration the UNECE assumptions on forest surfaces that are certified by both FSC and PEFC), an increase of 6 million hectares from the previous ICFPA Progress Report. This accounts for nearly 53 per cent of the total forest area in the CEPI member countries. Comparably, 92.2 per cent of forests managed by European pulp and paper companies are certified.

Nearly 18,000 Chain of Custody certificates were granted in CEPI member countries by both certification systems, more than a 50 per cent increase since 2010. Sales of Chain of Custody products have also increased. For instance, sales for paper, tissue and board are now 25 per cent of total sales, compared to 13 per cent in the last report.

CEPI published a report in November 2012 entitled “Resource efficiency = cascading use of raw materials.“ It highlights that using wood as raw material creates five times more value and seven times more jobs compared to converting it directly into energy.

The full ICFPA 2013 report can be found here :

Babine Sawmill Rebuild

The rebuild of the Babine Forest Products Sawmill just east of Burns Lake, BC, is moving forward on schedule after only a few months into construction, according to HQPrinceGeorge Wednesday.

Following the explosion at the former mill in 2012 that left two people dead, the new mill will be a third smaller in size, however it will still employ hundreds of local workers.

Hampton Affiliates CEO Steve Zika says they’re excited to see the project moving forward so smoothly.

“It’s moving along on schedule and the weather is mostly cooperating, we had a little bit of rain recently but as we planned the cement is going on throughout the site the last week or so.”

Zika says crews will soon be starting work on the buildings that will house plainers, saws and machinery. Hampton Affiliates is expecting to complete the build by late 2013 and start production early next year.

Canada’s Trade Confidence

Export Development Canada’s semi-annual trade confidence index, released June 27, rose to 72.6, up from 70.7 in last autumn’s survey.

Recent indicators suggest the US economy is gaining momentum, though the first quarter was slower than initially believed. The housing sector is coming back, retail sales are strong and the economy is generating jobs at a much faster clip than a year ago.

Eight out of 10 exporters reported either higher or flat orders from US customers, up from 75 per cent last fall, according to the EDC index.
The survey also reflects less concern about both Europe and emerging markets.

Canadian Export Index

The 72.6 reading is still below the index’s recent peak of 78.8, reached in the spring of 2010. But it’s roughly in line with the average seen from 2003 to 2007.

Peter Hall, EDC’s chief economist, pointed out that Canadian exports have been increasing at an annual rate of 12 per cent over the past six months.
The increase from last autumn cut across virtually all regions and business sectors.

Confidence rose in five of six industries tracked in the survey, led by resources such as agriculture and forestry, which increased to 72.1 from 67.3. The extractive category, covering mining, oil and gas, fell to 69 from 73.2, according to the report.

Meanwhile, Canada’s trade deficit shrank by almost 70 per cent in May from April but only because imports fell twice as fast as exports did, Statistics Canada said in a downbeat report Wednesday.

The trade deficit – the 17th in a row – dropped to $303-million in May from an upwardly revised $951-million in April.

Exports dropped by 1.6 per cent as shipments of metal and non-metallic mineral products dropped by 15 per cent while motor vehicles and parts fell by 3.8 per cent.

US Forest Policy Discussions

Congressional Republicans, who have long tangled with Democrats and environmentalists over how aggressively to remove trees and other vegetation from national forests, will renew their push for stepped-up thinning as a result of the deaths of 19 firefighters in Yarnell, AZ, said TribLive Wednesday.

Forest Management, US

A meeting has been called at the House natural resources subcommittee on public lands and environmental regulation next Thursday to examine how “excessive growth” in forests may be adding to the risk of wildfire.

The hearing will focus on how “unnatural, unhealthy forests increase the risk of wildfire,” according to a news release from the panel.

Environmental groups have been wary of past GOP plans to more aggressively thin forests, saying the efforts are driven by logging companies seeking to loosen protections in national forests.

Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has long criticized the White House’s plan to slash funding for a program that pays to remove “hazardous fuels — brush, diseased trees and dead vegetation — before the fire season starts.

The administration’s 2014 budget request to Congress seeks US$296 million for hazardous-fuels reduction — sharply lower than the US$502 million Congress set aside in fiscal 2012.

That’s bad policy, Wyden said, especially when a long-running drought and extreme heat have heightened the fire risk in the West.

Economy, Jobless Rate, US

Americans had more to celebrate on the Fourth of July than they realized: The US economy added 195,000 jobs in June and more than 70,000 jobs than previously thought in April and May, according to the monthly employment report released Friday morning.

US Economy, Jobs

Private-sector employment expanded by 185,000 from May to June, according to the ADP employment report released earlier in the week.

While the government’s employment data point to a US economy on the mend, Friday’s jobs figures also show the continuation of some negative trends. While the unemployment rate stayed constant at 7.6 per cent in June, a broader measure that includes workers who are out of work, underemployed, or discouraged from finding a job bounced up to 14.3 per cent, half a percentage point higher than in May. Those working part-time but wanting full-time work increased 4 per cent to some 8.2 million.

In total, the jobs report encouraged US markets on post-Independence Day trading, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average rising more than 1 per cent in trades before the opening bell.

July 10, 2013

BC Wildfire Management

A letter published in the Vancouver Sun at the beginning of last week prompted Madison’s to get updates on the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Management’s latest wildfire management strategies.

Referencing Manning Park specifically, Robert Gray, a fire ecologist based in Chilliwack, BC, said June 17 in the Sun, “[ . . . ] the province should proactively begin the process of reducing the wildfire hazard in the park [ . . . ] by treating fuels at the landscape scale.”

Madison’s has heard similar suggestions expressed by other fire experts, silviculture professionals, and certainly the municipalities most at risk due to increasing fuel loads in the wildfire interface zones around British Columbia’s rural towns and cities.

On April 7, 2011, the Ministry announced that the Province was investing another $25 million into the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative to further protect BC from the threat of wildfires. That initiative would provide 90 per cent of wildfire mitigation funding up to $100,000 and 75 per cent of the remaining cost, up to a maximum of $400,000 per year. The $25 million in funding was in addition to $37 million provided in 2004, bringing the total government funding for the Initiative from 2004 to 2013 to $62 million.

These funds are dispersed to communities to manage and to reduce wildfire risk for a 2 km interface zone.

At the beginning of 2013 the Initiative increased the government’s share of annual funding to 90 per cent with a cap of $400,000 for municipalities and First Nations, and of $600,000 for regional districts. The remaining 10 per cent can be an in-kind contribution or a cash payment from the municipality, regional district, or First Nation making the application, said a Ministry press release dated December 10, 2012.

“These communities, the municipalities, regional districts, and First Nations, don’t necessarily have the know-how to manage and plan for wildfire risk,” said Gray to Madison’s in a phone interview last week. “They have to hire consultants, get information from the timber companies, deal with a lot of bureaucracy and oversight, and eventually they can get bogged down with the sheer volume of work.

“The 2 km buffer around communities amounts to 1.7 million hectares, of that only 43,000 hectares, or 2 per cent, has been treated to date,” continued Gray. “Out of 1.7 million hectares at immediate threat of fire danger due to the mountain pine beetle, climate change, and reduced harvest levels, the Initiative only addresses 43,000 hectares.”

Wildfire Prevention Initiative

In a phone interview Monday morning, Lyle Gawalko, Manager of Fire Management at the BC Wildfire Management Branch, explained to Madison’s, “There is work being done in the interface areas, therefore on the land at large, for landscape fire management planning. We are working to identify management activities in general forests, and have already launched pilot projects in three quite different regions of the province: the Vanderhoof District of the Prince George Timber Supply Area, Merrit, and Squamish.”

The pilots will develop objectives to guide land management activities such as the use of silviculture techniques -including tree planting, brushing and spacing – to reduce wildfire risks from hazardous forest fuels, said a Ministry release on January 8, 2013. The pilots’ results will be used to assess high wildfire threats and identify strategies to improve the fire resiliency of the land in order to further protect communities and infrastructure. The final results will be used for management projects such as the establishment of landscape level fuel breaks, fuel hazard reduction, alternative reforestation, and prescribed burns.

“There is approximately $6 to $8 million in funding left for the Initiative in 2013. Our department has informed the government that new funding will be needed to keep the program,” Gawalko added, and indicated that the expectation is for more funding to become available.

Mike Pritchard of the Vanderhoof Forest District told Madison’s in a phone interview Wednesday, “We are bringing the old wall maps, block maps, previously used in District offices for wildfire management, into the 21st century. We are working on a computerized product which will be live, and can transfer data electronically quickly so decisions can immediately be made in the face of a wildfire danger. We are taking the 2005 tool, converting it to a digital format, and making it mobile.

“In essence we are developing a central clearing house of information, taking data from provincial databases which are reported into by — for example — mines and other stakeholders, to get a snapshot of fire danger in April of every year.”

Pritchard admitted that there is likely some “very dated forest inventory data” included in the information being gathered.

“The next step, which is being done now, is to ‘ground-truth’ the data; to spot check for fuel types, to check the validity, and then to extrapolate to a wider area,” Pritchard detailed. “Right now we are also dealing with the question of how to manage the data. We want to make the best use of the information we have at the time of a fire, and since the new tool will be live there will be new data coming in all the time.”

Pritchard said the goal was to end up with a portable product which could be loaded onto a device, for example an iPad, then taken out into the field during an actual fire.

“In doing a fire analysis, staff could take the mapping system out into the field, let’s say if they are in a helicopter flying the perimeter of a fire. The tool will have GIS capability, then we could monitor if the fire escapes containment over the critical 72 hour period.”

When asked about the rest of the province, Pritchard said, “Once we have the information from those three very different regions of the existing pilot projects, it is just a matter of formatting so the tool works across the province.”

Lori Daniels, Forest Ecologist and Associate Professor at the UBC Department of Forest Sciences, wrote in the UBC Faculty of Forestry’s Branchlines January issue, “Implementing these new wildfire management strategies may be challenging. It will require developing new expertise among forest and fire professionals, support and cooperation from the public and rural communities, and funding from multiple levels of government.”

Daniels explained to Madison’s Wednesday in a phone interview, “My team has been studying how historic fire regimes worked. Traditionally, foresters believed that most fires were stand-replacing fires. But field evidence does not support this — we have been collecting data on how frequent fires burned and what was the ranged of severity.

“Low- and moderate-intensity fires were common and extremely important in the past. There are ‘surface’ fires with lower intensity which are easier to put out . As a result, these types of fires have been effectively eliminated by fire management policy during the 20th century. Humans effectively eliminated less intense fires from the landscape beginning in the early 1900s through land-use change, and almost entirely after the 1940s with effective fire suppression. Since then, there have been almost no low- to moderate-intensity fires.”

Daniels and her team conducted tree ring analysis of fire scarred trees to assess the frequency of fire scars. Fire scars provide direct evidence of past low-intensity fires that damage but don’t kill trees.

“The most affected ecosystems are forests in the Ponderosa Pine, Interior Douglas fir, as well as the Montane Spruce, Interior Cedar Hemlock and even some of the drier subzones of the Englemann Spruce-Subapline fir BEC zones,” Daniels detailed. “Since our land use changed with European settlement and we have ben putting out the low-severity fires, there have been fuels building up in the forest. As well, the understorey density has increased, and ladder have been created. There are literally thousand of sub-canopy trees competing for water with canopy trees. Right now the climate, the fuel loads, issues with the subcanopy, all combine to make conditions primed for fire. Conditions are prime for potentially much more severe fires in many of the drier forest types of the province than burned in the past.”

“The province’s new wildfire management program is progressive, the range of mechanisms for fire management are more diverse,” continued Daniels. “Especially a modified fire response, letting some fires burn is a good idea. As for the management of the interface zones, this work has been downloaded to the municipalities which have experience in urban fires, fires in infrastructure, but not with forest fires. The approach in BC is to fund individual municipalities, each of which then has to find heir own solutions to interface fuels and wildfire problems.

“In 2003, total costs are estimated at $750 million to put out the fires, to rehabilitate the environmental damage, and in insurance costs. Right now the province is spending only $1 to $2 million per year on pro-active ecological restoration. There is a lack of political and public understanding of how big the problem is.

“A lot of forest and fire management decisions in the past were economically-driven. The forest industry has been primarily using even-aged silvicultural systems, thinking they were emulating stand-rplacing fires. This has resulted in homogenized stands and landscapes around BC. Since there used to be other types of fires as well, and in the absence of the range of severities of fires, the province is losing the diversity of a multi-age forest and complex landscapes,” concluded Daniels. “There was a lot of careful thought put into past management decision, but because they were driven by economics and optimizing yield, we did not realize a consequence was to alter and homogenous our forests. Going forward we need to keep our options open, hopefully applying new management to diversify the forest, and to make long term investment to maintain the forest for sustainable resource management. The cumulative effects of past management actions like fire suppression and silvicultural practices are fairly substantial. We are now aware of things about historic fires and forest dynamics that we didn’t know before.”

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Sawmill Fire

A lumberyard fire northeast of downtown LaGrange in Oldham County, Kentucky, was contained by late Friday morning after starting in a kiln used to dry wood, a fire official said to the Courier-Journal.

The fire at the Northland lumberyard, near Louisville, KY, was reported when a worker at the facility noticed heavy smoke coming from a kiln. Major Keith Smith of LaGrange Fire and Rescue said that by 10:30 a.m. the fire had been contained, but was still smoldering.

Fire, Sawmill

The kiln that caught fire was at about 180 degrees fahrenheit and the room was stacked floor to ceiling with about three-truckloads of lumber.

“Luckily, it was a very small kiln and it was contained quickly. The fire department did a great job. Nobody was hurt and that’s the real blessing,” Northland owner Orn Gudmundsson said to Wave3 News.

About 60 firefighters responded to the fire, Smith said.
Smith said the fire began in a kiln filled with lumber but the cause has not been determined. Northland is a family-owned lumberyard and has operated a kiln to dry hardwoods since 1968. Smith called the fire a “fluke incident,” said the Courier-Journal.

“This room is basically stacked from floor to ceiling, wall to wall with lumber, so the fire itself is very deep-seeded,” Smith said.
The fire never spread beyond the kiln, Smith said.

Five fire departments from Oldham County and two from Henry County fought the fire.

Domtar’s White River Mill to Restart

Frank Dottori is getting into back the lumber business by reopening a former Domtar sawmill in White River, ON, according to an announcement June 21. Dottori, the founder of forestry giant Tembec, is part of a three-way partnership of private investors, Pic Mobert First Nation, and the Township of White River.

The mill shut down in 2007, throwing almost 250 workers off the job.

White River Sawmill

Stakeholders involved in White River Forest Products Limited said work on restarting the mill has already begun, according to CBC.

The mill has a guaranteed softwood supply of 500,000 cubic metres of spruce, pine and fir. The company is negotiating business-to-business deals to secure another 150,000 cubic metres.

Dottori said that will allow them to produce 150-million board feet of lumber annually and between 100,000 and 110,000 tonnes of chips by next year.
A single shift is expected to start in autumn and a second shift could follow in the spring of 2014. A company news release indicated that up to 180 direct and indirect jobs will be created if the mill becomes fully operational.

Dottori, who holds 49.8 per cent of the private ownership piece, expects to be a hands-on boss for the operation valued between $20 million and $25 million, said Northern Ontario Business.

The White River site has a 7.5 mega watt cogeneration facility that will use biomass produced by the mill. The company plans to reactivate the cogen plant in 2014.

Resolute Selects Sawmill Site

After months of suspense, Resolute Forest Products announced June 21 where they are planning to construct their new $50-million sawmill.
Resolute has chosen the site of the former Buchanan sawmill in Sapawe, ON, which is about 30 kilometres east of Atikokan, ON.

Resolute Sawmill Site

Resolute Forest Products expects to begin production at the new dimension lumber sawmill by the end of the second quarter in 2014, said the Thunder Bay News. The project will create about 90 direct jobs, with additional positions through harvesting and hauling operations.

Atikokan Mayor Dennis Brown is thanking Resolute for the positive announcement, stating that the facility will mean a great deal to both the town, and the surrounding area.

The project is part of an overall investment by Resolute that began in 2011 of nearly $200-million into Northern Ontario, positioning the company as the largest lumber producer in Ontario.

Colorado Wildfire

A 125-square-mile fire is blazing its way throughout Colorado forests, said the National Journal Thursday. According to the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, the fire is zero per cent contained.

The three wildfires that make up what is being called the West Fork Complex have been burning since the beginning of the month, and officials in the area don’t think it can be contained without some help from nature. One incident commander told Associated Press that the West Fork fire “likely will burn for months.”

A separate fire in the Black Forest was just contained last week. It killed two people and destroyed 500 homes.

July 03, 2013

Forest Certification

US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) officials responded to a recent complaint filed against the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) in Seattle, WA, that it will be evaluated against a new set of standards adopted in October and designed to weed through a growing thicket of environmental marketing tactics.

The May 31 complaint claims SFI is not disclosing substantial financial ties to the timber industry that might affect how it defines and applies certification standards. Campaigners for ForestEthics, which filed the complaint along with Greenpeace, contend that SFI certifies much more lenient logging practices than a rival certifying body, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and undermines those in the marketplace who adhere to the more rigorous standards.

SFI officials responded that the new complaint is “substantially similar” to one filed by conservationists in 2009 on which the The FTC took no enforcement action. The certification body has threatened to sue ForestEthics, saying that it files frivolous claims and spreads false and defamatory information.

A Question of Validity

Jim Kohm, head of the US FTC, was quoted May 31 in the LA Times about another forest certification case, “It took us about 30 seconds to have the Federal Trade Commission certified as ‘tested green,’ and we were neither tested nor green. They [the online certification firm] were saying that they were members of this certification body. But it turns out that the certification body was them.”

Since the publication of the Green Guides in 1992, the FTC has protected consumers from fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices by corporations and industries that want to call their products or services ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’. The FTC could stop SFI from asserting that the organization is independent from the industry and corporations it is designed to serve.

FTC recently brought cases against Amazon, Macy’s, and Sears for selling clothing purportedly made of bamboo fibre that was actually fashioned from rayon. It also cracked down on the paint manufacturers Sherwin-Williams and PPG Industries for saying that some of their products did not produce hazardous fumes.

And it shut down the online forest certification firm selling ‘tested green’ certifications for products that were neither tested nor green. Federal trade authorities alleged a violation of consumer protection laws and reached a settlement that prohibited the company from claiming that any outside party had evaluated the products it certified -or that the company had any environmental product expertise.

That enforcement action was one of a growing number the FTC has been asked to undertake as often-unverified claims of environmental friendliness wield increasing financial muscle in the marketplace, according to the LA Times.

But the forestry complaint laid bare an obscure schism in the forest products world between SFI, which mainly includes companies in the United States and Canada, and FSC, a more global group with ties to environmental advocacy organizations. The two bodies compete fiercely for companies to use their eco-friendly labels.

At stake is a marketplace in the US for green products and services that some say is worth as much as US$500 billion a year.

Conflicts over certification are likely to grow in coming years as more companies seek to position themselves as green alternatives in the marketplace, said Scot Case, the markets development director for UL Environment, to the New York Times May 31. UL Environment publishes sustainability standards for scores of household and institutional products, from adhesives to window treatments.

Case told the New York Times that recent FTC enforcement actions had gotten the attention of manufacturers and retailers, who are now more careful about their claims of purity.

“With the FTC clamping down on the pure charlatans out there,” Case said, “it makes it easier for legitimate environmental labeling organizations like UL Environment to do what we do best — make it easier for consumers to buy greener products.”

Meanwhile, a study released Thursday maintains that environmental groups are seeking a forest certification monopoly instead of preserving the current system of competing certification programs. A research paper by EconoSTATS at George Mason University, by Brooks Mendell, PhD, and Amanda Hamsley Lang of Forisk Consulting, “Comparing Forest Certification Standards in the US: Economic Analysis and Practical Consideration,” found that an FSC monopoly has real implications, specifically in the Southern US as well as the Pacific Northwest, could hurt landowners, and could cost thousands of jobs.

Wayne Winegarden, a Contributing Editor to EconoSTATS and a Sr. Fellow in Business and Economics with the Pacific Research Institute, wrote a piece for Forbes Monday saying, “Mendell and Lang’s work illustrates that, when it comes to optimal regulations, intentions are not all that matter. A good policy balances the policy’s intentions against its consequences. Allowing forestry certification programs to compete against one another meets these criteria; competitive programs creates a feedback mechanism that allows the standards to address regulatory shortcomings quicker and constantly incents the standards to address the needs of landowners, consumers and environmentalists.”

Elsewhere, Florida passed legislation -HB 269 -in May to revise a 2008 law that led the Florida Department of Management Services to adopt the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program as the certification standard for state office buildings. The Florida bill, which passed both the House and Senate without a single opposing vote, represented a backlash against LEED, which depends on the FSC for its wood certification.

Bill sponsor Representative Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello, said, “The purpose of this bill is not to pick any one organization or any one agency over another. It is to give Florida a choice rather than pigeon-holing between one green building code or another.”

Corey Brinkema, FSC president, told The Florida Current May 31 that it’s up to forest landowners to decide whether to participate, noting that 500,000 acres is certified in Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. He said locally grown wood also can get credit under the LEED program even if the forest is not certified by the FSC.

But Cindy Littlejohn, a lobbyist representing Plum Creek Timber, said to The Florida Current that the LEED endorsement is so difficult that Florida growers don’t participate because they won’t make enough money. She said Georgia and Maine passed executive orders similar to HB 269.

Georgia passed a resolution May 23 to support that state’s forests. The Georgia Republican Party resolved to actively discourage the use of LEED certification, stating that all local projects should recognize all timber certifications equally.

As well, the North Carolina House has passed HB 628 requiring consideration of the SFI and the American Tree Farm System.

Sawmill, Panel Mill Curtailments

Temporary curtailments have been announced by several North American producers. Swanson Group, based in Glendale, OR, will take maintenance downtime at it’s Oregon lumber and plywood mills for the week of July 1. Boise Cascade, out of Boise, ID, will curtail production at three western US plywood mills due to market conditions. These curtailments will be at different times during the week of July 4 and will equate to roughly one week’s total production. Vernon, BC’s, Tolko Industres is taking down time at it’s Heffley Creek, Armstrong, and Lumby plywood and veneer mills during the first week of July. The mills are scheduled to resume production July 8.

Meanwhile, the US National Association of Home Builders issued a release Wednesday warning that US home builders and lumber dealers reported significant shortages of key home building materials such as lumber and wall board. The builder results come from special questions added to the monthly survey that serves as the basis for the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index. Twenty-two per cent of builders reported shortages for Oriented Strand Board, 20 per cent were short of wall board, and 18 per cent were short of both lumber and plywood.

US Wildfires

An Arizona wildfire whipped up by strong winds threatened hundreds of homes on Wednesday, even as firefighters were gaining an edge on a California blaze raging near a pristine wilderness, authorities said. More than 500 firefighters were battling the Doce Fire in Arizona, which has burned through 2,830 hectares of chaparral, pine and juniper since Tuesday morning near Prescott, about 160 kilometres north of Phoenix, AZ, the Prescott National Forest said in a statement.

Wildfires, US

In New Mexico, the Silver Fire burns in the Gila National Forest to the east of Silver City, NM. The fire was started by lightning on June 7, about seven miles southwest of Kingston, AZ. Evacuations were ordered for Kingston in the middle of the night on June 10, and were lifted at noon on June 20. The area is still closed to the public; only residents with entry permits will be allowed to return.

Colorado wildfires have been sweeping through the state, so far claiming two lives and almost 500 homes. The most destructive of these, the 15,000 acre Black Forest wildfire outside Colorado Springs, CO, is being considered a “crime scene” officials have said. The fire, which has burned 29,000 acres, moved about seven miles on Thursday.

British Columbian fire crews heading north to battle Alaskan wildfires this week as wildfires are raging near Fairbanks, AK, with an area just under 50 hectares now up in smoke.

Canadian Flooding Hampers CP Rail

Raging floodwaters throughout southern Alberta have claimed both of Canadian Pacific’s main routes, leaving the transportation company scrambling to keep trains moving. Heavy rainfall over the Oldman and Bow river basins caused devastating floods throughout much of southwestern Alberta early Thursday morning, scouring away Canadian Pacific lines in Canmore and Crowsnest Pass.

The two lines are the railway’s only links to the west coast.

Alberta Flooding

According to CP Rail spokesperson Kevin Hrysak, high water conditions have affected Canadian Pacific rail lines in both locations, with high water scouring railbeds and bridge abutments, said the Calgary Sun Friday.

Reports indicate that the railbed supporting Canadian Pacific’s Laggan Subdivision, part of the company’s transcontinental main line, is severely abraded or totally washed away at some points through Canmore by Cougar Creek.

A bridge carrying Canadian Pacific’s Crowsnest Subdivision through Blairmore has been completely washed away, with ties clinging to sagging rails dangling over raging flood waters.

Canadian Pacific trains are backed up across Alberta and BC as the system is rerouted onto other railways.

Railways often have agreements with other railways to accommodate trains.

Home Sales, Pricing, US

Purchases of existing houses in the US rose 4.2 per cent to a 5.18 million annualized rate, the most since November 2009, the National Association of Realtors reported Thursday in Washington, DC. Surpassing the 5-million mark is a welcome sign, said Lawrence Yun, the Realtors’ chief economist.

Home Sales, Pricing, US
Purchases of existing houses in the US rose 4.2 per cent to a 5.18 million annualized rate, the most since November 2009, the National Association of Realtors reported Thursday in Washington, DC. Surpassing the 5-million mark is a welcome sign, said Lawrence Yun, the Realtors’ chief economist.

US Home Sales, Prices

Purchases of previously-owned homes rose in all four regions of the US, led by an 8 per cent gain in the Midwest and a 4 per cent advance in the South, said the NAR.

The number of homes listed for sale rose for the fourth straight month as the crucial spring selling season got underway. The inventory of existing homes listed for sale at the end of May increased 3.3 per cent to 2.2 million properties, down 10.1 per cent from year-ago levels. That represented a 5.1-monthsupply at the current sales pace, down from 5.2 months in April. Tightened inventories could encourage home builders to break ground on new properties, which could in turn spark the economy.

Last month’s supply of existing homes was the smallest for any May since 2002.

The median price of an existing home jumped 15.4 per cent in May from a year earlier to US$208,000 last month, the highest since July 2008. The monthly gain was the biggest since October 2005, when the median surged a record 16.6 per cent.

Prices rose in 15 cities in March from February, up from only 11 in the previous month. The monthly figures aren’t seasonally adjusted and may reflect the beginning of the spring buying season.

Prices have been increasing steadily since last summer but are about 29 per cent below the peak reached in July 2006.

Prices rose in Phoenix, AZ, by 22.5 per cent over the past 12 months, the biggest gain among cities. It was followed by San Francisco, CA, with a 22.2 per cent increase, and Las Vegas, NV, which rose by 20.6 per cent. New York City had the smallest year-over-year increase at 2.6 per cent, followed by Cleveland, OH, at 4.8 per cent.