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The Future of Tree Improvement in the Southeastern United States: Alternative Visions for the Next Decade

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The tree improvement programs founded in the southeastern United States 50 years ago have been the prototype for many silvicultural research programs around the world. During that time, they have been directly or indirectly responsible for much of the remarkable progress in forest productivity seen in the southeastern United States. They have also exported plant material, ideas, and trained professionals to many other parts of the world. These programs, models for collaborative research and development, are now entering a critical period fraught with both promise and peril. Extraordinary progress in both forest genetics and tree improvement is achievable during the next 10 years. Advances in physiology, genomics, and molecular biology provide tools to make rapid improvements in vegetative propagation, selection efficiencies, deployment strategies, and the possibility of creating crop trees with novel characteristics. This article discusses four main areas of concern that influence the future of tree improvement: economics, societal expectations, rate of scientific advancement, and organizational infrastructure. Key to the economic concerns are the restraints that arise from the fact that wood and fiber products are temporarily abundant in the global market. Under these conditions, tree improvement is restrained to adding value either by lowering production costs or by making qualitative changes capable of transforming the output into higher value specialty products. Key to the societal expectations is how tree improvement practitioners address the limits set by society on acceptable technology. We have a responsibility to shape public and corporate policies by helping evaluate the risks and benefits of alternative technologies. We have more control of the advancement of science and its silvicultural application. Nevertheless, advances in science occur at irregular intervals and are impossible to predict. The one area of our future that we collectively control is the infrastructure by which we organize our efforts. Criteria for successful infrastructure will be those that support continuity of effort, maximize return from limited resources, and foster cooperative research while simultaneously promoting the development of proprietary intellectual property. South. J. Appl. For. 29(2):88–95.

Keywords: Forest genetics; breeding objectives; economics; environmental management; forest; forest certification; forest management; forest resources; forestry; forestry research; forestry science; intellectual property; natural resource management; natural resources; tree improvement cooperatives

Document Type: Regular Article

Affiliations: 1: Western Gulf Forest Tree Improvement Program, Texas Forest Service and Forest Science Department Forest Science Lab College Station TX 77843-2585 Phone: (979) 845-2556;, Fax: (979) 845-3272, Email: 2: NCSU-Industry Cooperative Tree Improvement Program, Department of Forestry North Carolina State University Raleigh NC 27695-8002 3: Director and Professor School of Forest Resources and Conservation University of Florida Gainesville FL 32611-0410 4: Department of Forest Science Texas A&M University College Station TX 77843-2135

Publication date: 2005-05-01

More about this publication?
  • Each regional journal of applied forestry focuses on research, practice, and techniques targeted to foresters and allied professionals in specific regions of the United States and Canada. The Southern Journal of Applied Forestry covers an area from Virginia and Kentucky south to as far west as Oklahoma and east Texas.
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