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Vernon research station one of numerous test sites for climate-based seed transfer

CSRD board receives presentation on forestry climate change adaptation strategy
Pacific Woodtech’s Scott King shared this image of a ‘healthy, happy, climatically adapted’ Douglas fir growing at a test site in Golden during presentation to the Columbia Shuswap Regional Board on Jan. 19, 2023. (Pacific Woodtech/Scott King photo)

Adapting B.C.’s forests to climate change is the goal behind trial sites planted in the North Okanagan-Shuswap and throughout the province.

In January, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District board received a presentation from Scott King, a registered professional forester with Pacific Woodtech in Golden, about climate-based seed transfer (CBST).

In short, King explained this is a climate change adaptation strategy that involves the movement of tree species’ seeds/seedlings to sites that will be most suited to them in predicted future climates.

“The way I try to explain it… is when you’re driving in the spring, typically if you go south you always have that question with someone where you go, ‘Oh, their leaves have already started to come out and ours haven’t.’ That’s because that envelope of those trees are used to that climate of that time.

“You could now take those trees north and plant them because that’s the climate you’re in now, what they were 100 years ago. Any seedlings in your area that are growing from a tree that dropped its seeds, those seeds are expecting a climate that existed 100 years ago which simply doesn’t exist. So all we’ve done is taken those seeds from further south and moved them into the climate they’re in today.”

This is what has been done at the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development’s Kalamalka Research Station and elsewhere in the province, including a test site in Golden overseen by King and Pacific Woodtech.

The test sites are now 15 years old. King said they were born from discussions that began in 2003.

“In forestry… we’ve been working on this discussion since about 2003, and this is primarily the work of the government but it’s involved everybody in the Province of British Columbia, because we had been noticing climate change in about 2003…,” said King. “Before you’re going to start to move trees or have that consideration of planting seedlings into a different part or climate envelope, you’re going to have to prove it out. That’s why this whole thing came about.

“Nowadays everybody is into climate change and we’re all saying what took you so long?”

The ministry refers to seed transfer as being one of the foundation tools used in reforestation practices to ensure trees planted are genetically adapted to the environment in which they grow. The practice of assisted migration is used in CBST, according to the ministry, to “maintain the adaptability (resilience), health and productivity of planted forests in a changing climate, given the expectation that local climate on some sites is currently, or may, in the near future become, poorly suited to local seed.”

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“We’re not taking a foreign tree and bringing it in here,” said King. “We’re just taking the same Douglas fir that was adapted further south and moving it a little bit north…”

The practice, King explained, is driven by science, including climate modelling from Climate BC.

“You have to plan for this tree to grow very well for basically 100 years,” said King. “You don’t really want to get that tree stressed out by year 20 or 30 if you’re not planning for that. So that whole thing constantly has to be modelled and adapted.

“We started fighting fires in the early 1900s and one of the best things we did in B.C. was establish weather stations really early… We have so much data that shows how this weather is increasing in temperature.”

King showed images of trial sites in Golden, including one of trees not adapted that have failed to flourish, and another of climatically adapted pine trees growing well. His favourite image was of a “healthy, happy, climatically adapted” Douglas fir.

“What that tells me, why this is really important too – when you have a tree that you’ve planted like that, it means you’re going to get less interference, you’re not going to have to do any kind of brushing, you’re not going to have to do any kind of invasive treatments whatsoever, and that forest is going to come back and grow no problems,” said King. “On the downside, wildlife needs these openings in order to feed, so it just means they have to go to a different home and a different place faster, but that’s just the nature of the beast.”

King said for Golden the seed is coming from the Revelstoke area, so “not only south but a little more to the east as well.”

“So now obviously you’re thinking what about Cranbrook or something like that? We’re going to have to start borrowing seed from the United States, which is why some of those trials are down there because that whole thing is going to get pushed up.”

King called B.C. a world leader in climate-based seed transfer.

“(We’re the) first ones out of the gate, scientifically proven, scientifically reviewed,” said King. “Now Alberta, Oregon, Ontario have jumped into this whole thing.”

More information on climate-based seed transfer can be on the B.C. government’s website.
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