In The News

Gene Conservation Plan for Native Trees of Alberta

May, 2009

The Gene Conservation Plan for Native Trees of Alberta has been posted on the Alberta Sustainable Resource Development website.

The gene conservation plan represents a collaboration between the Parks Division of Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation and the Forestry Division of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. The Alberta Forest Genetic Resources Council provided advice during development of the plan as well as final endorsement.

The plan identifies and describes Alberta’s native tree species and outlines amethodology for identifying and protectingpopulations of these species to ensure continuedforest health and evolutionary resilience.

The conservation plan is important to Alberta because genes represent the potential of any organism, population or species to adapt to the environment. For Alberta’s 28 native tree species, environmental challenges include fragmentation and isolation of populations due to economic development and land-use conversion, climate change and increasing pressures from pests and diseases. These conditions have the potential to erode the genetic variation required for evolution and continued forest productivity and health.

The conservation plan and related activities will identify measures to protect this variation for future economic development, scientific study and continued forest evolution and health. Implementation will occur over the coming decade or so. A formal protocol will help establish conservation priorities by species.

The initial conservation emphasis will be on two species for which large-scale planting of traditionally-bred improved trees is in progress (lodgepole pine and white spruce), and two species that are particularly vulnerable to disease, wildfire and climate warming (limber pine and whitebark pine). Efforts to fill gaps in the network of protected populations will be concentrated on Alberta’s public lands. Complementary efforts will be undertaken where candidate populations for protection are outside provincial public lands.

The two government divisions have an agreement to develop and coordinate implementation of the plan with guidance from the Alberta Forest Genetic Resources Council and in concert with forest companies. The major part of the plan deals with establishment of in situ (within natural habitat) reserves for commercial and non-commercial species. Companies involved in tree improvement have the primary responsibility for establishment and maintenance of reserves for species in their tree-improvement programs.

It is envisioned that many of the reserves can be established within the existing parks and protected areas network. However, there will be a requirement for reserves to be established on other public lands for some species and local populations. Coordination between the working group on native tree gene conservation and local contacts and land managers will be crucial for implementation.

Implementation of the plan commences with establishment of in situ reserves following gap analysis on a prioritized species basis. An ex situ (away from natural habitat) component of the conservation plan is under development for seed, pollen and plant materials maintained in archives, clone banks and field plantings.

Whitebark and Limber Pine Conservation

October 8, 2008

Honourable Ted Morton

Minister, Sustainable Resource Development

420 Legislature Building
10800 97 Avenue
Edmonton, AB
Canada T5K 2B6

Dear Dr. Morton:

As you are no doubt aware the Alberta Forest Genetic Resources Council was formed in 2000, to advise the Minister of Sustainable Resource Development on matters pertaining to conservation, biodiversity and productivity of Alberta’s forests from a genetic perspective.

Recently the council has reviewed the status reports for Limber pine and for Whitebark pine (Alberta Wildlife Status Reports No. 62 and 63). Given the limited range of these species within the province, combined with threats from white pine blister rust, mountain pine beetle, climate change and the long term effects of fire suppression we believe the prognosis for these species is at best bleak.

In addition to the Status reports, Council has also been involved in the review and endorsement of the Gene Conservation Plan which was jointly authored by staff in Sustainable Resource Development and Tourism Parks and Recreation. This plan which is in the final stages of review prior to publishing, has also identified both Limber and Whitebark pine as high priority species for conservation efforts.

The purpose of this letter is to express strong support of AFGRC for any conservation measures that are recommended by the Endangered Species Conservation Committee to protect the future of these species within Alberta. You will be pleased to know that this expression also carries the support of the Alberta Forest Products Association and more specifically those companies that carry out operations within the range of these species.

Yours sincerely,

C.B. (Cliff) Smith

Chair, AFGRC

cc. Mr. Arno Doerksen

Chair, Endangered Species Conservation Committee

Forest genetics key to Alberta’s future forest

March 31, 2008

A new appointment to the Alberta Forest Genetic Resources Council will help Alberta gain insights into how human activity and climate change will affect the province’s future forest.

Equally important, says Council chair Cliff Smith, Edmonton scientist Willi Fast will bring sound advice on how genetic resources can be both conserved and enhanced at a time when industrial, residential and recreational pressures, as well as climate uncertainty and mountain pine beetle, confront the forests that cover more than 50 per cent of Alberta.

The Council was created in 2000 to advise the Minister of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development and to advocate research on conservation, biodiversity and productivity of forest genetic resources. Its membership represents government, academia and industry.

Willi Fast was appointed by the Minister of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. He is a partner with The Forestry Corp. in Edmonton where he head the Biometric Group, a team that helps industry model or predict forest growth and yield. Such calculations are essential to the development of mandatory Forest Management Plans that assure long-term forest sustainability.

Fast’s work shows what forest stands will look like in 50 or 100 years’ time under various management tactics and assumptions. Those assumptions can include everything from precipitation and temperature levels to the proportion of a stand left behind for wildlife purposes.

Some Alberta models ( and suggest climate could change significantly in this province, with marked effects on where native tree species will flourish. This is just one area of concern that will call upon these species’ ability to adapt rapidly, making it an issue of genetics and good planning. Companies and public policy will face the need for adaptation as well, in all probability.

In terms of human activity, Fast’s work in growth-and-yield also helps point to optimum ways to grow fibre through reforestation after harvest, and through management of mixed conifer and hardwood stands.

Fast describes the science of growth-and-yield as the application of statistical principles and mathematical relationships to the biological systems at work in forestry. “It’s important to Albertans because it’s one of the basic building blocks for industry and government to be able to demonstrate sustainability,” he says.

“Providing more reliable forecasts of what forest stands are going to look like decades into the future, under several management assumptions, helps demonstrate that yes, we in fact are practicing sustainable forest management. It also helps us plan for any adaptations that might be required in how we manage today’s forest for tomorrow’s challenges.”

Fast looks forward to his work with the Council and its partners. “The geneticists are not only trying to breed trees to adapt to climate change, but also to maintain broad, diverse genetic bases, so that the populations don’t become genetically narrow,” he says. “It’s a really exciting area of interest and research right now, bringing together forest growth-and-yield modeling and the impacts and improvements that the forest geneticists are making.”

No genetically-modified trees are allowed in Alberta’s public forest. Natural breeding techniques used for centuries with farm crops are used with conifer such as spruce and pine, and with hardwoods such as aspen and poplar. Traditional climate patterns have held Alberta’s fibre growth rate at about 1.5 to 2.7 cubic metres per hectare per year for conifers, significant less than growth rates seen in warmer countries. Tree breeding trials promise to increase Alberta’s coniferous growth rate substantially. For hardwood species, breeding has yielded stock that grows to maturity twice as quickly as the average for native trees. There is also potential to breed trees with greater resistance to forest insects and diseases.

For more information contact Cliff Smith, Chair of the Alberta Forest Genetic Resources Council, at (780) 449-5626.

Setting genetics research priorities

The Alberta Forest Genetic Resources Council established research priorities in 2007 so that it can better advocate research on conservation, biodiversity and productivity of forest genetic resources to funding agencies and researchers.

A central theme has been the need to balance risks and gains rather than adhere to a more traditional risk-avoidance research strategy. Council is concerned that the traditional strategy will lose its validity under a changing climate. Rather than the risk-avoiding strategy of emulating natural processes and patterns, we now need to understand the actual risks and benefits associated with seed transfer, levels of genetic diversity in deployment populations, and selection of fast growing, insect and stress-resistant forest trees.

Our three priority areas of research are outlined below.

Optimization of breeding regions, seed zones, and seed transfer guidelines . For example – investigating plant-climate relationships, climatic characterization of current seed zones and breeding regions, and predicting suitable deployment areas under climate change.

Long-distance transfer of provenances and use of exotics or hybrids . For example – long-term field testing of exotics and hybrids, testing out-of-range provenances in long-term field trials, and research on gene flow from exotics and hybrids to natural populations and the fitness of introduced species.

Deployment of superior genotypes from tree improvement programs . For example – quantify genetic gains through realized gain trials, develop better methods to estimate rotation-age stand volume of genetically improved planting stock and investigate potential impacts of climate change on realized gain.

David Holehouse, 2007 AFGRC Annual Report

Effective post-harvest stand management discussed at conference

Effective management of stands after harvesting will be driven by the transformation of words into action, say the co-chairs of this year’s Post-harvest Stand Development Conference.

“Our first priority is to carry on the momentum from the conference,” said Cliff Smith, chair of the Alberta Forest Genetic Resources Council. “You see many conferences and workshops where afterwards a document is produced, goes on the shelf and not much happens. By setting out action items, we want to chart a clear course for further development.”

Discussions from the conference in January centered on building information and knowledge to improve forecasts of stand development and growth and yield following harvesting. From those talks, the co-chairs produced and released a number of recommendations.

“We’re moving from an era where we’ve been harvesting fire origin stands and meeting regeneration regulations into one where we have to pay more attention to managing those stands regenerated after harvest,” said Dick Dempster, director of the Foothills Growth and Yield Association. “Much of our traditional expertise and knowledge is based on the management and harvesting of fire origin stands. Now, we hope to fill in the gaps and get things moving in the right direction to effectively manage the changing risks and the opportunities associated with this new forest.”

The co-chairs focused the recommendations into three directed dialogues on selected action items: technical program alignment, education and strategic directions.

Some of the dialogues will be facilitated by a non-partisan third party organization, such as the Foothills Model Forest, including an initial meeting of senior representatives from organizations currently implementing or supporting growth and yield programs

Lisa Jones, communications and extension manager for Foothills Model Forest said the organization facilitates knowledge transfer by building a common understanding that leads to a common approach.

“This ensures a coordinated approach, across all sectors, to the management of post-harvest stands,” said Jones.

Participation by government, industry, professional associations and academic institutions will be encouraged as part of the dialogues. The first meeting is scheduled for September 2006.

“Mainly what we’re trying to do is get people from various disciplines – growth and yield, genetics, forest health and silviculture – together on the same page,” said Smith. “We recognize the significance of the problems at hand and the importance of moving forward.”

For more information contact Dick Dempster at (780) 424-5980 or, Cliff Smith at (780) 449-5626 or, or Lisa Jones at Foothills Model Forest at (780) 865-8329 or
Written by: Sarah Seinen, The Edge Forest Business magazine