Building Reforestation Strategies Through Macroscale Analysis

Gary Bull Profile
Gary Bull

Dr Sally Aitken, a colleague of mine, was recently quoted in the LA Times on the topic of climate change as it pertains to genetic diversity and reforestation. More and more, today’s North American forests are undergoing a myriad of large-scale changes and adversities that affect forest planning and policy decisions. From drought to record snowfall to fires to infestation and disease, forest health, productivity and economics are being severely impacted. Addressing these impacts using the best available science and information tools is critical to finding a sustainable path for all concerned, including the Canadian forest products and renewable energy industries.

Some of my colleagues and I at UBC Faculty of Forestry have been looking at finding research-based solutions that provide ecologically, socially, and economically viable ways for Canadian forestry companies to decide on the best reforestation practices in regions experiencing dryer and warmer conditions. Collaborating with Natural Resources Canada and the Canadian Forest Service, and with the support of Genome Canada, Genome Quebec, Genome British Columbia and Genome Alberta, we looked to the latest tools being developed from genomics to help find better solutions at the macroscale.

Reforestation Strategies - Forest Between Stewart and Dease Lake BC

Climate change events occur on a macroscale yet traditional industry practices, such as reforestation, are mostly dealt with at a stand-level scale. In a recent research project, we set out to examine the vulnerabilities of localized stand-level reforestation strategies to climate change events. We decided to focus on a single climate change threat, drought-induced seedling mortality, and looked at how our decisions around this factor, including the use of genetically improved planting stock, (genetic variants within a species selected for specific traits), could affect reforestation success and future forest growth rates.

Prolonged drought impacts are regionally dependent yet have cumulative effects that affect much larger areas such as entire forest areas in the boreal for indeterminate amounts of time. We wanted to know where, when and how much genetically improved planting stock should be planted, how we should prioritize across the macroscale, and how effective would the planting be in addressing the vulnerability of the forest to a climate stressor such as drought.

Traditionally, decision support tools have either focused on just the economic or ecological perspective with little thought about how to integrate them into the management of the forest. Our decision support tool, called Q3 (quantify, query and queue) took into account both the economic and ecological factors in order to analyze the link between genetic improvements, stand-level decisions and macroscale outcomes. We applied this to run several scenarios describing planting effort, improved yields and risk to drought-induced seedling mortality.

Reforestation Strategies - Spruce Trees in Frost During the Winter

Our findings showed that adopting genetically improved planting stock strategies across a macroscale could be financially beneficial when factoring in stand establishment constraints and the risks of drought. We are also able to link across spatial and temporal scales to develop macroscale forest management strategies and policies that are consistent with local stand-level forest operation requirements. For example, forest companies operating in Canada’s western Boreal forest could now demonstrate the rationale to prioritize younger stands closer to processing mills that had a smaller percentage of conifer growing stocks prior to harvest.

Climate change effects are forcing us to reexamine our existing silvicultural policies and traditional ways of operating in forests. While many of these effects are difficult to predict, utilizing the new research tools, such as Q3, will allow companies to adapt and evolve to the ongoing challenge of managing the forest sustainably.


For further information contact Gary Bull at

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