Up the Hidden Lake forest road east of Enderby, one can branch off onto Malpass main (Tom Malpass ran a sawmill and was a logger years ago). Swing left, and in a large forestry tree experimental plantation, many years old, there, in a mix of spruce and larch, is a 40-metre-tall fir tree. It’s number: R!PR!6!T!!. It was planted there as a seedling by Keith Ilingworth, a forest genetics researcher working for the B.C. government, back in 1975.
It was one seedling from 64 different sites, as far away as Mexico. Straight and tall fir trees from Revelstoke, and siblings from Skykomish Pass in Washington State, more than 500 south, were planted there.
This arboreal patchwork of conifers illustrates that each tree is distinct from each other. This genetic diversity with an eye to future climate predictions is matching trees to new locations for survival.
At UBC, Sally Aiken forest geneticist is working on a White bark pine study. These trees are one of seven species under threat from climate change to fungal infection. Most of this research is based on assisted migration. In other words, taking seedlings to northern climes for future forests.
As clear cuts and timber extraction increases to the maximum allowable harvest even locally, about two million seedlings are planted each year. Many species are now engineered to prevent disease like pine rust to bark beetle attack. There’s a lot at stake here as, in Canada, 150 million cubic metres of timber is harvested annually.
In 2014 forestry contributed $20.2 billion to the economy, employing 480,000 folks – loggers, mill workers, planters, etc. So researchers realize that with planting trees further north than normal, it will extend their ranges/life spans.
Greg O’Neill, research scientist, is working on a framework of planting seedlings on climate predictions, as foresters have strict rules at present to use seeds from local trees when replanting clear cuts.
Overall, assisted migration of trees may be the answer to prospering forests. If we don’t try, the risks of inaction are massive. Compete information on migration can be found in Reader’s Digest, Branching Out, May 2016, a complete insight into future forestry.