February 06, 2013 - 4:49 PM
Dr. Michael Carlson of Coldstream spent his career with trees, specifically Lodgepole pines. Now that he's retired, not much has changed, except that his work has been recognized by the provincial government with a Queen's Diamond Jubilee medal. The award was presented by Forests, Lands and Natural resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson Tuesday. As an emeritus scientist, Carlson continues his research on tree breeding so that in years to come, B.C. has trees that will survive.
Carlson grew up in L.A. and thought he'd be an engineer. But a road trip through B.C. changed his mind.
"I fell in love with the forests of B.C.," Carlson says. He dropped out of engineering and entered a life-long career in forestry.
"My research is an attempt to better understand the forest and how it can be managed sustainably," he says.
Carlson selectively breeds trees to enhance their resistance to diseases, insects and environmental conditions. His work is done from the Kalamalka Forestry Centre, one of just two centres of its kind in B.C. He's been there since 1982, just a couple years after it first opened.
"Any economy that depends on planting and harvesting trees needs a tree breeding program," Carlson says. With 85 per cent of harvested areas in B.C. being replanted, he says its worthwhile to plant trees with better survival properties.
But it's not just about planting trees that survive well now, it's about looking forward and predicting future conditions. With climate change on the upswing, Carlson says it's a challenging task.
Alongside research scientist Greg O'Neil, Carlson is working to breed trees that will have a strong chance of survival 30-40 years from now. The research involves testing seeds in hotter, drier regions in anticipation of the warming trend expected in the Okanagan.
"We don't want our seedlot choices to be a guess, but based on empirical evidence," Carlson says, noting the research can be used to show politicians what can be done to secure forests down the road.
Carlson says the Okanagan depends on a slow release of water from melting snowpacks over the spring and summer. But with climate change, that water is expected to melt all at once and no longer provide a gradual dispersal over the summer.
Insects are another thing affected by climate change—the mountain pine beetle providing a prime example. With warming temperatures, insects that would normally be kept in check by freezing winters are able to thrive.
"We've had 14 winters in a row too mild to kill off the pine beetle," Carlson says. "It's apparent with climate change we'll have a whole new set of problems."
He says there was hope among researchers the Lodgepole pine would have enough genetic variation to breed something resistant to the mountain pine beetle. But so far, it can't be done.
"The beetle is in charge," Carlson says.
The research conducted by Carlson and O'Neil is called Assisted Migration and Adaptation Trial (AMAT) and is cutting edge. "B.C. is the only government in North America doing this research."
"If we don't do this now, we won't have empirical evidence 20 or 30 years from now," Carlson says. "We have to take future changes into consideration."
He says all crops, including food sources, will be affected by climate change. As water becomes scarcer in the valley, he says water-use habits will have to change.
But as a scientist, Carlson concentrates on what research can accomplish.
"We're trying to stay one step ahead of climate change. But it's a moving target," Carlson says.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013