Appendix F. Coos Bay District Forest Genetics Program
For thousands of years humans have selected and used the genetic variation that is naturally present in plants and animals. Genetic diversity is the foundation for plant and animal improvement programs. Modern crop and livestock improvement programs have substantially increased yields and productivity with selection and breeding. The need for food production and natural resources is increasing as the human population increases. Genetic improvement programs have met, and will continue to help meet, these demands.
The genes in all organisms are the basis of their diversity. Genetic diversity is a key component of an ecosystem. Broad genetic diversity is considered to be an asset because variability is a buffer against change. Problems can occur when genetic diversity is too narrow. Genetic uniformity decreases resilience to change and increases the potential for problems due to pests and diseases. Environmental conditions influence the expression of the genetic code. The physical characteristics of an organism are dependent on the interaction of its genes with the environment. Ecosystems are dynamic communities which change over time, and plants and animals are impacted by the changes. Species with wide tolerances can adapt to changes, while those with narrow tolerances can be heavily impacted.
The amount and pattern of genetic diversity in a species develops in part as an organism responds to the environment. This adaptation occurs over a long period of time as the environmental conditions select either for or against specific genetic traits. Each species has a unique genetic structure. Genetic studies are conducted to describe and quantify the amount of genetic variation within a species. This information is necessary to direct management and to help guide operational projects.
Genetic diversity can be described as a natural resource. Management and conservation of genetic resources is vital for many reasons. Genetic improvement programs are a great benefit to society and genetic materials have a large economic value. Genetic material from wild stock is an important source of variability which can be infused into existing improved varieties. Many medicinal compounds are derived from plants, and there is the potential for more undiscovered uses. Conserving genetic diversity for all species allows evolutionary processes to continue within the conditions of the natural environment.
Tree improvement is the application of genetic principles and methods to forest trees. Many of the desirable traits in trees can be enhanced with tree improvement. The Bureau of Land Management has participated in cooperative tree improvement programs for forest trees in the Pacific Northwest since the late 1950s. The emphasis to date has been in improvement of growth and disease resistance. Ecosystem management principles are changing the focus of the tree improvement program. The existing tree improvement and seed orchard programs will be integrated into a broader based forest genetics program. Genetic diversity issues for many organisms will likely become more important in the future. A forest genetics program is consistent with ecosystem management principles and can be expanded to cover the genetics of other plants and animals.
This appendix describes the objectives of the forest genetics program, its present status, and proposed direction. Readers interested in technical details of the tree improvement program are referred to the BLM Western Oregon Tree Improvement Plan (1987). Additional information on genetic resource issues can be found in The Value Of Genetic Resources (Oldfield 1984) and Genetics and Conservation Of Rare Plants (Falk,Holsinger 1991).
The objectives of the forest genetics program underlay a broad spectrum of land management activities. The biological foundation of ecosystem management rests upon a clear understanding of the genetic diversity present within the system. The following objectives are broadly defined and include tree improvement, gene management, and gene conservation activities.
Status of the Existing Program
The BLM tree improvement program has generated a substantial and important genetic information base for several conifer species. The data is significant to ecosystem management because it describes the nature and extent of genetic variation present for traits of the species.
Because genetic diversity is continuous across the landscape, tree improvement programs are implemented at this level. Each program is a small ecologically similar area called a breeding unit. Most tree improvement programs are cooperatives with BLM and adjacent landowners. A cooperative structure is beneficial because it greatly increases the number of trees in the genetic base, and the trees are located across a broader geographic area. Program costs are shared among cooperators which is more efficient. BLM is cooperating in more than 50 breeding units which include several million acres of forest land in western Oregon.
The following accomplishments summarize the status of the program:
Proposed Program Direction
The future forest genetics program will be more complex under ecosystem management than under the previous management plans. Improvement of growth and disease resistance will continue as an important component of the forest genetics program. Gene conservation and gene resources management issues will be emphasized to a greater degree. Gene conservation involves taking specific actions to conserve the genetic variation of a species with the purpose of maintaining the range of natural diversity within the species. Gene management is the integration of genetic principals into resource management actions. Because ecosystems are complex, genetic diversity is important for all organisms. Genetic principles must be considered when planning and implementing resource management projects so that genetic diversity is maintained.
The following is a summary of the direction for the forest genetics program:
Ecosystem management concepts have challenged the forest genetics program with more issues than were addressed by the previous forest management plans. The former program must be meshed with the additional needs defined by ecosystem management so previous gains are maintained and future needs are addressed. Policy and land use allocations will likely change over time. A flexible broad-based forest genetics program is the best option to accommodate changing conditions. Tree improvement, gene management, and gene conservation objectives share a common genetic basis. Since each aspect of the program can complement the others, all aspects should include provisions for maintaining and enhancing genetic diversity. Tree improvement programs are intensive management practices that can achieve higher productivity and help meet the demand for wood products; genetic information is needed to support and guide ecosystem management projects; and conservation of genetic diversity is vital to ecosystem health and stability.