Research Science and Technology

New U of A research chair will help strengthen sustainability of Alberta’s forest industries

$4-million endowed chair will focus on improving growth and yield of forests, informing industry management plans and educating the next generation of forestry professionals.

  • January 20, 2021
  • By Bev Betkowski

The sustainability of Alberta’s forest industries will be strengthened through a new $4.125-million research chair being established at the University of Alberta.

The Endowed Chair in Forest Growth & Yield, being established in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences (ALES), will focus on research that improves understanding of the growth of Alberta’s forests.

“The new chair will directly contribute to the sustainability and value of Alberta’s timber resources,” said Stanford Blade, Dean of ALES.

The endowment supporting the chair is funded by the Forest Resource Improvement Association of Alberta and Alberta Pacific Forest Industries, Canadian Forest Products Ltd., Mercer International Ltd., Millar Western Forest Products, Norbord Inc., Northlands Forest Products, Vanderwell Contractors Ltd., West Fraser Mills Ltd. and Weyerhaeuser Company

Working closely with those industry partners, the chair—expected to be named in the spring of 2021—will develop research programs to improve growth and yield of Alberta’s forests, which will in turn help forestry companies strengthen their management and harvesting plans. The chair will also play a critical role in educating the next generation of forestry professionals.

Forests vital to economy and ecology

The funding agreement reflects the longtime collaboration ALES has had with its industry partners since the U of A forestry program was started 50 years ago, added professor Ellen Macdonald, head of the Department of Renewable Resources, where the new chair is based. 

“We are honoured that they have provided this funding to us and by their commitment to working with us on our research to create solutions,” she said, noting that the chair is funded in perpetuity. “This will be good for the forests of Alberta.”

The province’s aspen, spruce and lodgepole pine forests are sources of many value-added products, from lumber to pulp, and also hold high ecological value. At the same time, they face pressure from several sources, including resource exploration and disturbances caused by climate change such as wildfires and insect infestations, she noted.

“There’s an increasing pressure to meet all those needs, so this funding lets us look toward what might be the most pressing issues in terms of forest growth and yield, to be able to better predict it,” Macdonald said. “There’s a need to continually improve those models.”

“We need to answer questions like how can we model what the future yield will be, and how can we predict what we will gain through different management approaches like thinning forests or using genetically improved material? We also want to understand how we can use data from emerging technologies, such as remote sensing, to better model how the forest is growing.”

Educating tomorrow’s forestry professionals

Tied in with that high-tech learning is a need to educate undergraduate and graduate students in skills necessary to the next generation of forestry professionals, she said. The new chair will provide those cutting-edge learning opportunities in the U of A’s forestry program. 

“Industry has said we need people to have these advanced skills in modelling growth and yield to avoid a looming skills gap. Our graduates are highly sought after by the forest industry, and this new area of research will be a really valuable addition to their program.”

“We are very grateful to the Forest Resource Improvement Association of Alberta and all the supporting companies for this important investment,” Blade added, noting research results will contribute to the development of new best practices, regulations and policy for forestry industries.

“This agreement shows how our faculty is a significant contributor to the success of Alberta’s forestry sector through training great people and conducting high-impact research,” he said.

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