Tree breeding and improvement

Last updated on February 29, 2024

Tree improvement and research into genetic variability of coastal Douglas-fir started in the late 1950s with studies conducted by Dr. Allan Orr-Ewing, a scientist with the former B.C. Forest Service. Studies examined the effects of inbreeding and wide crossing between trees from distant populations.

Traditional recurrent selection programs were started later from intensive plus-tree selection throughout low elevation coastal B.C. The program expanded in 1968 with improvement programs starting in interior spruce.

In B.C., there are 50 breeding and improvement programs for different species and seed planning zone combinations. Each has a business plan and objectives that are evaluated annually by the Forest Genetics Council of B.C.

Tree Breeding Programs

Coastal tree breeding

Interior tree breeding

Coastal tree breeding

Coastal Douglas-fir, western redcedar, yellow-cedar, western hemlock, western white pine, Sitka spruce, and a variety of broadleaved tree species are important components of coastal maritime and coast-interior transition forests. These species are highly valued for their growth rates and wood quality, generating commercial pressure on the resource.

The goal of B.C.’s tree breeding program is to produce well-adapted, selectively bred seeds or cuttings that will grow into trees with stable and improved volume, growth and quality, while maintaining the genetic diversity found in natural populations.

The coastal tree breeding research program is designed to:

  • Address second-growth management issues on the coast, such as adaptation and diversity of planting stock and more successful and faster free-growing status
  • Understand how to adapt forest management activities to climate change and evaluate the magnitude and implications of its risks for forests
  • Improve industry competitiveness by protecting reforestation investments and long-term volume gains

Interior tree breeding

Interior spruce, lodgepole pine, interior Douglas-fir, western larch, western white pine, and several broadleaf tree species are important ecological and economic components of B.C.’s interior forests. Today, interior spruce and lodgepole pine represent more than half of the seedlings planted annually in B.C., and they are highly valued for their wood quality compared to fast-grown plantation trees from elsewhere in the world.

The interior tree breeding research program is designed to:

  • Address reforestation issues in the interior such as maladaption of planting stock and successfully achieving free-growing status
  • Understand how to adapt forest management activities to climate change and its risks
  • Respond to forest health risks such as the terminal weevil on spruce trees, white pine blister rust, mountain pine beetle, and root diseases
  • Minimize losses of improved seed through seed and cone pest research and management
  • Improve industry competitiveness through protection and enhancement of reforestation investments and long-term gains in volume and wood
Genetics trials
Forest genetics trial sign

B.C. Forest Service genetics trial installation sign, which typically marks trials out in the field.

Contact information

Contact the forest genetics research program