Tree Improvement Programs

The dual challenges of changing climate and economic constraints continue to influence forest genetics programs in Alberta. Conservation of genetic diversity and maintenance of adaptability to natural environments remain among the primary objectives of all programs.

Programs for public land deployment involve two deciduous and six coniferous species native to Alberta. All programs are based on traditional methods of selection and breeding, with no genetic modification (GM). Most programs involve cooperative arrangements among various agencies, including Alberta Sustainable Resource Development and forest companies.

A broad genetic base has been accumulated, and thousands of wild genotypes have been preserved by grafting in ex situ reserves. In conjunction with the Alberta Genetic Resources Conservation Plan, a system of in situ reserves is also being initiated for all species involved in breeding programs.

Coniferous program development started in 1976, and there are now 22 programs. Increased wood production through faster growth is the main objective; other traits of interest include wood quality and disease resistance. Some programs are designed primarily to alleviate seed shortages. Orchards of lodgepole pine, white spruce, black spruce, jack pine, Douglas-fir, and western larch have been established. More than 1,850 kg of seed have been produced, and almost 30,000 ha have been reforested using orchard seed. Progeny tests are yielding fast-growing healthy individuals for inclusion in the next generation’s breeding and orchard populations. Coniferous programs are summarized below.

Programs in aspen and aspen hybrids, balsam poplar, and hybrid poplars are under development by forest products companies. Priorities for hardwood programs include adaptation, growth rate, disease resistance, and wood quality traits.

The first aspen cooperative program was initiated in 1992 by a group of companies. More than 2,000 aspen genotypes have been propagated, and more than 90 tests have been established on 26 test sites. The first cycle of aspen breeding and test establishment has been completed for two programs. More than 700 balsam poplar selections have been made province-wide for industry-driven programs, and six clonal trials have been installed. Deployment of hybrid poplars on private land began in 2000; public land deployment of native hardwoods for reclamation is now underway.

Provincial genetics policy for forest trees in Alberta was enacted in 2003. A major revision was completed in May, 2009, and the document was renamed Alberta Forest Genetic Resource Management and Conservation Standards (FGRMS) to better reflect content and applicability. These standards provide a framework for program development and accrual of benefits, while ensuring that genetic diversity, adaptation, and conservation objectives are met.