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Focus of Pine Cooperative Expands to Include Other Species

May 17, 2011 – Loblolly pine, one of the most important commercial tree species grown in the southern United States, is used in a wide variety of wood products. Since it is highly responsive to management practices, it is often grown in managed plantations. The Loblolly Pine Growth and Yield Research Cooperative was established at Virginia Tech in 1979 to develop tree growth and stand development models for the species. Following ratification by its membership, which presently consists of 21 industrial sponsors, the organization changed its name to the Forest Modeling Research Cooperative (FMRC) in 2010.

While loblolly pine will continue to be a primary focus of the cooperative, the new name communicates a broader scope of modeling work that includes other species, production objectives, and regions. “The FMRC is currently developing models that account for thinning, fertilization, varietal plantings, site preparation, and pruning treatments on tree and stand growth while also investigating aspects of wood quality,” said Senior Research Associate Ralph Amateis, assistant director of the cooperative. In addition to traditional wood products, the FMRC is developing modeling capabilities for management systems that include emerging product markets such as carbon credits and bioenergy.

As demand for forest products increases, timber harvesting is being restricted across much of the globe. “Intensive management allows for supplying wood products from a smaller land base, but it raises concerns about the maintenance of long-term soil productivity and environmental services such as clean water and air, wildlife habitat, and biodiversity,” said Harold Burkhart, University Distinguished Professor and direc- tor of the cooperative. “Models of forest stand development, growth, and yield are required to objectively evaluate the stream of goods and services that might result from plantations.”

The FMRC collaborates with private land managers as well as federal and state agencies on a wide range of research projects to develop improved growth and yield models for intensively managed forests and to incorporate forest stand projection systems into decision support tools. “These tools help managers make efficient use of available resources, including land, genetic material, and fertilizers, to grow wood and provide environmental services to meet the diverse needs of society,” Amateis explained.

One of the cooperative’s current projects involves developing a model appropriate for “flex stands,” which are comprised of two populations of a single tree species planted on the same site and managed for alternative product objectives. “One population may have genetic, growth, or wood quality characteristics that warrant different planting densities or management treatments than the other population,” added Amateis. One population is removed early in the growth cycle and used for bioenergy, allowing the other population to grow longer for harvest as lumber, which allows the site to be used more effectively.

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