A multimillion-dollar funding initiative aims to take Canadian forestry industry research to the cutting edge.
The federal government is investing $3.3 million in sustainable forest management projects in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and New Brunswick as it aims to improve the forestry sector's competitiveness and productivity.
But the money is just part of the picture, as researchers are also setting their sights on closer co-ordination and collaboration with the industry.
Eight new research studies were recently unveiled at the Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) network's fourth international conference held in Edmonton.
"This new research builds on the foundations of past research and applies new techniques, concepts or ideas to answer questions that have not been adequately answered in the past," says Jim Fyles, the conference's scientific director and a forest ecologist with Montreal's McGill University.
"In some cases, questions or issues that did not appear to be important in the past, and so were not studied much, now have a higher priority because of changing regulatory or economic circumstances."
The studies, which range from increasing the involvement of forest-dependent communities in forest management to improving the timing and cost effectiveness of logging operations, will help the industry move forward, conference officials said.
SFM is a not-for-profit group that is part of the Networks of Centres of Excellence Program - a federal initiative administered jointly through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) in partnership with Industry Canada.
The network links 31 universities, 12 forestry companies, provincial and federal departments, Aboriginal groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
"The network has a knowledge exchange team that works with researchers and partners (industry, government, Aboriginal community, NGOs) to help build the relationships that bring good collaboration," says Fyles.
For University of New Brunswick researcher Paul Arp, it's about finding a better way to do things.
With the help of $522,000 in federal funding, he'll lead a national research team to improve the timing and cost effectiveness of logging operations.
"Canada's forest industry is faced by a continuing challenge to do better, in view of many detracting factors," says Arp, a professor of forestry and environmental management at UNB.
Those challenges, he adds, include fires, diseases, trade disputes, the rising Canadian dollar, energy costs, increased rules and regulations, including the need for certification, conflicting land-use expectations, conservation practices and ensuring sustainability.
Arp's project is developing ways to better identify hydrologically sensitive (wet) areas so they can be avoided and built into planning processes.
This, he says, will help both industry and government deal with issues such as lowering logging and transportation costs, increasing the productivity of silvicultural investments, and reducing negative logging impacts on forest soils, streams and lakes.
"Overall, the methods under research will lead to a better valuation of forest resources, better placement of forest and non-forest resources to better withstand hydrological impacts during wet, cold, and dry weather (flooding, droughts, ice), and better interfacing of various land-use activities (forestry, agriculture, residential, oil-and-gas)," says Arp.
Another project to receive funding is led by Jeremy Rayner of Malaspina University-College in Nanaimo, B.C.
Rayner will get $237,100 over two years to promote policies that integrate different uses and values of Canada's forests through the analysis of three western Canadian case studies.
In B.C., the research team will study the pine beetle infestation on the Cariboo Chilcotin land-use plan, one of the first regional land-use plans to be adopted in B.C.
In Alberta, the focus will be on the development of voluntary agreements with oil and gas licensees in the forest management areas held by Weyerhaeuser and Daishowa-Marubeni International Ltd. to determine the appropriate role for the Alberta government.
And in Manitoba, the team will study the Southern Hardwood Development Project, which involves a partnership between First Nations, industry and government in an area with existing forestry activities and wildlife management and community sustainability issues.
Meanwhile, University of British Columbia researcher Thomas Maness will receive a total of $431,000 over three years to develop a system that will show the public how their choices will affect the forests' future.
"It's a very, very complex problem and the choices we make today affect a long time horizon," says Maness.
"People have to understand that their (forestry) preferences have long-term impacts on things and we have to understand better how the ecosystem works."
Maness will lead an inter-provincial research team to develop a new way to effectively measure the public's forest preferences, while fellow UBC researcher John Innes will study how to better understand the cumulative impacts of industrial development on Treaty 8 First Nations Communities.
Other projects to receive funding include:
* A study led by Jim Buttle of Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., that will look at how to protect Canada's water resources from possible forest operations impacts.
* Shashi Kant of the University of Toronto will lead an international research team to develop a global competitiveness index for Canada's forest industry.
* Han Chen of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., will lead a national team working on ways to better predict forest productivity and timber supply.
* The University of Alberta's Fangliang He will lead a study on how to better safeguard forest biodiversity for future generations.
"We do research because it is interesting and fun, not only because it is our job," adds Fyles.
"The main objective of the conference was to make connections between researchers and the users of the research. Those sorts of connections are essential to help researchers tune their work to the needs of the users."
(Laura Severs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)