A Forestry Startup?

When we first told people we were co-founding a technology startup targeting forestry the most common reaction was scepticism and doubt. It’s true to say that, in some quarters, the entire sector has been written off. So many of the stories we hear about forestry are bad news, no wonder most people think it’s a dying industry.

The truth is that forestry actually contributes over a billion dollars of economic activity in our home province of Nova Scotia alone — every year. There is a lot of value being created in forestry. Why then does it appear so dysfunctional?

While there are many issues at the root of the dysfunction in the forest industry, the fragmented nature of our landbase is one of the biggest challenges.

Although we are surrounded by an incredible forest resource; rich in its diversity of tree types, plant communities, structures and habitats; it is really complicated to make the right choice of where, when, and how much timber can be cut sustainably. This isn’t a new problem, and there are many good solutions out there such as Remsoft when you directly control a large enough landbase to feed your mill through freehold or public land licenses.

The issue in regions like Nova Scotia is that most of the land is actually privately owned. A mosaic of approximately 30,000 individual parcels — each woodlot representing an individual owner, a family with their own story, values, and objectives. In this context, managing the resource sustainably isn’t just sorting through the natural diversity; it also requires you to figure out how to work within an immensely complex social fabric.

In the past, the complexity somewhat took care of itself. People lived in the same communities, mills were local businesses, and every winter farmers would set out to cut firewood and timber that would get delivered right to the mill gate. Local scale and interpersonal relationships made the complexity manageable.

Today, those relationships are changing dramatically. We are in the midst of a massive demographic shift. People don’t live on the land anymore, and even if they do stay in rural communities, they are commuting to bigger towns for work.

As a consequence, the localized relationships that used to make forestry work are disappearing and landowners no longer know whom they can trust to work on the family woodlot. Not knowing what to do, it becomes easier to do nothing.

Meanwhile, the mills are much bigger and need to find enough wood to keep the machines rolling. The pressure for a mill to keep up and be efficient amidst global commodity prices is immense. As private land gets more and more difficult to navigate, the rational behaviour for a mill is to just cut as much as possible when they do find a property to work on. Mills feel like they have to do this — it’s not uncommon for them to be unsure where next week’s supply for the business is coming from. Running out of wood means laying people off and having millions of dollars of equipment sitting idle, burning a big hole in your pocket each hour the mill is down. Keeping things running is today’s problem and they actually can’t worry too much about what those clearcuts might do to wood supply 20 plus years from now.

Into this fray, enters WoodsCamp. Where localized interpersonal relationships are disappearing, new forms of community are emerging through social networks. Rather than relationships being a product of place, they’re now driven by shared interests. The WoodsCamp platform applies the social insight from these new communities along with technical analysis of the forest to deliver an actionable resource that aligns with the values of individual landowners.

It’s still a remarkably complex environment to work in, so WoodsCamp is also building tools to make it easier for loggers and mills to track and manage their supply chain across a more distributed network. By combining an actionable timber inventory and tools that create better efficiencies in managing supply, mills can secure a predictable supply at lower marginal cost.

While WoodsCamp is still in its early days, the platform is already being used by customers to unlock trapped value for landowners, provide affordable tools for forest professionals, and deliver a predictable wood supply to mills at lower marginal cost.

If you are a woodlot owner wanting to unlock value without destroying your forest, or you are forest professional committed to delivering awesome work but desperate for better tools, know that what was once thought impossible has now been made possible. Check it out for yourself at WoodsCamp.com