Canada’s $1.1B iconic western redcedar (WRC) export industry is facing a precipitous decline, as the durable and aesthetically appealing timber supply moves from old growth to second growth and faces climate-driven challenges. Second growth forests produce an alarming 40% less volume compared to old growth and the wood is 25-50% less durable. This translates not only into a significantly reduced timber supply, but also a major reduction in the value of products made from the available wood. In addition, the ~8 million WRC seedlings that are planted annually in Canada are increasingly susceptible to multiple pests (including browsing wildlife and pathogens). The WRC breeding program, managed by the project’s User co-leader, Dr. John Russell, is directly addressing these challenges. The current and conventional breeding strategy uses expensive and difficult traditional approaches of measuring tree performance phenotypes in an extremely slow process through long-term field trials. In contrast, genomic selection (GS) statistical models that will be developed by this project may dramatically reduce the time to select for these traits and deliver improved seedlings to timber companies (co-Users for this project) for reforestation up to 30 years earlier than is now possible.
The GS models will be used to rapidly and accurately select seedlings for increased volume, wood durability and pest resistance (wildlife browsing and foliar pathogens). Vegetative copies of these seedlings will be planted in the industry-owned WRC seed orchards on southern Vancouver Island and within 7 years after project completion, these orchards are expected to have reached an annual production capacity to meet the demand of ~ 8 M trees for reforestation for the entire annual WRC planting program across BC. This effort also has the potential to result in earlier merchantable volume (10-20 years) through selection for wildlife browse resistance and leaf pathogen resistance.