Eugene Record of Decision and Resource Management Plan

Acronyms and Abbreviations

Eugene Record of Decision

Eugene District Resource Management Plan Table of Contents:

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- Appendices

Appendix M
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 and will continue to help meet these demands.

The genes in all organisms are the basis of their diversity. Ecosystems are dynamic communities that change over time and genetic diversity is a key component. Broad genetic diversity is considered to be an asset because variability is a buffer which allows a species to adjust to 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. Species with wide tolerances can adapt to changes, while those with narrow tolerances can be detrimentally impacted.

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. 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. Each species develops 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 that can be infused into existing improved varieties. Conserving genetic diversity maintains options for future needs i.e. many medicinal compounds are derived from plants and there is the potential for undiscovered uses. Conserving genetic diversity for a 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 mid 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, the present status, and proposed direction. Readers who are interested in technical details of the tree improvement program are referred to the BLM Western Oregon Tree Improvement Plan (1987), and the BLM Eugene District Tree Improvement Plan (1994). 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).

Program Objectives

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:

  Provide for seed production as needed for planting species on BLM lands. Develop seed collection and seed deployment guidelines as needed.
  Develop genetically improved materials as needed to meet BLM's resource management objectives.
  Maintain and restore the genetic diversity within managed forest stands.
  Analyze needs and implement gene conservation strategies as appropriate.
  Collect information on genetic variation from important species.
  Contribute to the development of genetic information needed for landscape analysis, ecological assessments, research studies,and ecosystem management projects.
  Maintain flexibility within the program so that information fulfills the current needs and anticipates future needs.

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.

Tree improvement programs function at a landscape level. Genetic diversity is continuous across the landscape and 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 land owners. 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:

  Several conifer species (Douglas-fir, western white pine, sugar pine) have been selected for genetically controlled characteristics such as growth rate, tree form, and resistance to disease.
  Field tests have been established using progeny of the selected trees. These progeny test sites have been measured at regular intervals.
  Seed orchards have been established using parent trees. The orchards produce locally adapted seed for several major species (Douglas-fir, western hemlock, western red cedar, ponderosa pine, grand fir, incense cedar).
  Each year improved seed is sown for replanting a portion of the harvested forest acres.
  The seed orchards are managed for seed production. Stimulation techniques are part of the management to encourage cone production. Trees that have slow growth in field tests or show undesirable characteristics are removed from the orchard. This practice is known as "roguing".
  Second generation programs to manage gene resources and increase improvement have been initiated in some breeding units. Selection and breeding work is underway.
  Facilities for cone and seed processing and greenhouses for growing custom tailored lots of many species are located at the seed orchards.

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 consists of specific actions to conserve the genetic variation of a species. The purpose is to maintain the range of natural diversity within the species. Gene management integrates genetic principals into resource management actions. Ecosystems are complex and genetic diversity is important for all organisms. Genetic principles should be considered when planning and implementing resource management projects so that genetic diversity is maintained and enhanced.

The following is a summary of the direction for the forest genetics program:

  • Progeny test sites will be maintained and measurements of growth and other characteristics will continue. Long-term management plans for the sites will be developed.

  • Seed orchards will be maintained and managed to produce seed as needed for ecosystem management projects.

  • Improved stock will be planted on a portion of the harvested acres.

  • Tree improvement programs have emphasized cooperative efforts for operational programs and research studies with state, private, and other government agencies. These partnerships will continue.

  • Genetic expertise including genetically appropriate guidelines will be provided for ecosystem management implementation.

  • A forest genetics plan will be prepared. It will include a strategy for gene conservation, maintenance of genetic diversity, and definition of a monitoring baseline to quantify genetic variation.

Ecosystem management concepts have challenged the forest genetics program with more issues than was done 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. Each aspect of the program can compliment 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. Conservation of genetic diversity is vital to ecosystem health and stability.