General Context of Research
Canada’s forests are valuable, not only in economic terms (e.g., government revenue, jobs, and gross domestic product), but also in the sense of the many intangible values they provide (e.g., biodiversity maintenance, ecosystem services, and community stability). Our forests also contribute considerably to Canada’s cultural identity generally and to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada more specifically. British Columbia’s contribution to Canada’s forest values is large because of its extensive forest lands, the high rate of growth of BC trees, the diversity of its topography, and its rich biodiversity.
Within this context, the socioeconomic component of our research goal is to describe and analyze how our genomics research project could contribute to maintaining or enhancing the social and economic prosperity of British Columbia’s spruce forests, and by extension, Canada’s forests generally.
Four Threats Facing Canada’s Forests
First, the location of suitable areas for growing commercial forest trees will shift in the next few decades. By 2100, for example, recently produced models show that climate change will dramatically reconfigure the pattern of forest types in BC. Where spruce grows now, especially in the interior regions of BC, the climate will be unsuitable; and conversely, spruce will likely be the preferred species for reforestation in areas that currently support other tree species. The stress-adapted spruce trees we expect to select by genomic techniques can mitigate some of the negative consequences of changing forest distributions.
Second, a suite of insect forest pests is poised to damage commercial forest trees as the climate changes, which will have severe economic and environmental repercussions. As an example, our focal insect pest, the spruce weevil, requires 888 degree-days (accumulated heat from days above a minimum threshold temperature of 7.2°C) to complete its life-cycle from egg to adult. Even a small rise in annual accumulated heat for this insect species will cause large increases in its viable geographic extent and corresponding severity of damage on young spruce. If our genomic research is successful in supporting breeding of spruce trees that are resistant to spruce weevil, we will thereby enable the provincial government to mitigate the negative effects of insect epidemics.
Third, the diversity of other species that currently depend on forest ecosystems will be scrambled and reassembled in unknown (and largely unpredictable) ways due to climate change. Current global predictions suggest that 15 to 37 % of terrestrial (non-marine) species will be lost due to climate change by 2050 (Thomas et al. 2004). Canada has legal and quasi-legal commitments (international and national agreements; national and provincial legislation) to prevent biodiversity loss, and the underlying premise for these commitments is that the current generation carries an obligation to maintain biodiversity for the sake of future generations. However, we might be able to conserve many forest-dependent species if we were able to retain the trees. By retaining spruce using our genomic techniques, for example, the provincial government might be able to partially stabilize some of the biodiversity associated with them.
Finally, changes in the global forest products markets could also threaten Canada’s and BC’s forest industry, and thereby threaten the flow of government revenue and the stability of the many forest-dependent communities throughout BC. In particular, the rapid development of large-scale plantations worldwide are expected to produce even more cheap wood and fiber. Canada’s forest products, to remain competitive, must be able to command premium prices by way of high-quality or niche products. We need to generate cost effective products to offset the relatively slow growth rates in Canadian forests (as compared to tropical and sub-tropical forests). Spruce, especially coastal Sitka spruce, is a high-quality forest product, and spruce species are a major component (32%) of Canada’s coast-to-coast boreal forests. We are counting on its economic premium; in BC.
The forests of British Columbia are about 95% publicly owned, and timber land is allocated to companies via tree farm licences in return for stumpage fees when trees are harvested. Companies are responsible for reforestation and often contract out the raising of seedlings and their planting. However, the breeding stock of seed, and in particular the genetic improvement of trees, is controlled entirely by the provincial government (the Ministry of Forests and Range).
The reason that companies are not involved with breeding (unlike much of the USA) is mainly because that they don't own the land, and also because that generation length of boreal trees (40-60 years) is too long to warrant an economic investment. By contrast, in the SE USA, intensive breeding of loblolly pine is done by private companies who own their land and can grow a generation of trees in 15-20 years.
Consequently, commercialization opportunities in British Columbia forest genomics are limited. We view our project as an investment into the public sector, with gains over the longer term. These gains are increases in the volume of wood production via faster growth, increased resistance to pests, and adaptability to climate change.
As mentioned in our initial proposal the use of genomics techniques for spruce, from a socio-economic point of view, has to be placed, at least initially, in a global context. The BC Forum on Economics and Policy, our partner in this project, has been very active in identifying and reporting on the critical global socio-economic issues: property rights, land use economics, innovation, competition, etc. (see http://www.bc-forum.org/ )
In our GE3LS modelling project, we have focussed on building our provincial level socio-economic decision support tool. We have work closely with research partners at the BC Forum, in particular, Dr. Thomas Maness, to ensure that the tool is built in a manner which makes it compatible with previous research work in this area. As reported in section V, we are ahead of schedule in the development of our tool which can generate provincial forest scenarios so that we can assess the impacts of genomics and other economic and ecological variables.
In the past two years, parallel to the development of a provincial decision support tool, we have also developed, again in collaboration with the BC Forum and other government and research partners, an International Forest and Forest Products Trade Model. This tool allows us to link provincial level analysis with global competitiveness environment for forest products. Taken together, these decision support tools can help, for example, to gain a better understanding of how genomics as a tool of science can help British Columbia better position itself in the global marketplace for forest products.
The following references illustrate some of our findings directly related to the development of these decision support tools.
Decision Support Tool References
Bull G.Q., O.Schwab. and P. Jayasinghe. 2007. Economic indicators and their use in sustainable forest management. BC Journal of Ecosystems and Management. BC Journal of Ecosystems and Management 8(2): 37-45. [Link to article]
Bull G.Q. 2006. The role of emerging countries in the paper and forest products world markets: China. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Advisory Committee on Paper and Wood Products. 47th Session – Rome, Italy, 6th June 2006. Item 4 – Role of Emerging Countries. [Link to article]
Northway S. and G. Q. Bull. 2007. Forest products trade between, Russia and China: Potential production, processing, consumption and trade scenarios. Synthesis. Forest Trends. Washington. DC. 17pp.
Northway S. and G. Q. Bull. 2007. International forest and forest products trade model: Scenarios for China, Eastern Russia and Indonesia’s forest supply, forest products processing, consumption and trade. Canadian Forest Service. Ottawa, Canada. 44pp.
White A., G. Q. Bull and S. Maginnis. 2006. Subsidies for industrial plantations: turning controversy into opportunity. Aborvitae 31(Sept):15.
ArborVitae Environmental Services Ltd. and G. Q. Bull. 2006. Overview of the Forest Sector, Opportunities, and Aboriginal Forestry in the Yukon Territory. Canadian Forest Service. Ottawa ON. Canada. 91 pp.
Northway S. and G. Q. Bull. 2006. International forest and forest products trade model: Scenarios for China and Indonesia’s forest supply, forest products processing, consumption and trade. CIFOR report. Bogor, Indonesia. 31pp.
Bull G.Q. and J. Williams. 2006. The BC forest products sector in a globally competitive
market: Developing a strategic response. A Background Study for the BC Forum on Economics and Policy. 85 pp.
Northway S. and G.Q. Bull. 2005. Developing scenarios and evaluating policies for
China and Asia pacific regional forest products suppliers. A proposed model structure. In. A. White and C. Barr (eds.). China & Asia Pacific: Forest Markets for Sustainable Livelihoods and Forests. Regional Network and Trade Scenarios Workshop, June 4-6, 2005, Beijing, China. 8pp.