Current Status and Future
In the early 1990’s, a group of interested foresters and private forest landowners banded together to form the Willamette Valley Ponderosa Pine Conservation Association (WVPPCA). Together with the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), members of the WVPPCA collected cones and plant material from more than 160 Valley ponderosa pine trees, establishing the Robert H. Mealey Native Gene Conservancy in 1996. The partnership between the WVPPCA and ODF is an excellent example of public/private co-operation, coming together to successfully solve an important natural resource problem. Without the passion of the dedicated volunteers in the WVPPCA, a valuable genetic resource in Oregon could have become further degraded.
In the early 1990’s, there appeared to be a more or less consistent demand for Valley ponderosa pine seed to produce about 1 million seedlings per year. This would require about 260 lbs of seed per year. Based on this forecast, ODF developed a total of 14 acres of seed orchard. Unfortunately, the forecasted seedling demand never materialized. There are two explanations for this:
- The deep and continuing economic recession has caused family forest landowners to significantly reduce their forest management activities, resulting in much reduced demand for forest tree seedlings of all species.
- Anecdotally, much of the land suitable for valley pine planting has already been planted.
Photo by Larry Miller
First year developing cones.
Today, the seed orchard is producing significantly more seed than needed, and the trees are growing very vigorously, so much so that the orchard has required two thinnings to maintain suitable growing space for the remaining trees. ODF bears the full cost of the orchard, but does not use the seed. Increasing pressure on annual operating budgets has forced ODF to consider options to manage the size of the orchard while sustaining the gene conservation and seed production goals.
At present, there exist a number of different sources of material which, when considered together, contribute significantly to the long term gene conservation of Willamette Valley ponderosa pine. In no particular order, these are:
- The original selections made by the members of the WVPPCA. Many of these trees still remain in stands throughout the Willamette Valley.
- The remaining trees, natural stands, and plantations of Ponderosa pine scattered across the Willamette Valley. This is known as in situ conservation.
- The existing seed orchard at Schroeder, containing parent tree identified material from 166 trees. Phase I contains material from 95 trees, and Phase II from 110, with material from 39 trees occurring in both portions. The seed orchard contains the most complete “set” of material selected by the WVPPCA.
- Seed remains in storage from 103 of the original trees selected by the WVPPCA. Of these trees, 96 have at least 100 seeds. This is known as ex situ conservation.
- Several other WVPPCA members have small plantations containing trees identified by parent tree source. These plantations contain partial subsets of the material at Schroeder.
- Weyerhaeuser Company maintains a Valley ponderosa pine seed orchard at Turner.
Also, there is a relatively large, developing cone crop in the Valley ponderosa orchard at Schroeder, which will be harvested in the fall of 2012. The current estimate is for many of the trees to be producing enough cones to warrant picking. The seed from these trees will be added to the parent tree seed on hand, increasing the level of ex situ gene conservation. The estimate for the 2012 cone crop is about 400 bushels of cones. At 0.45 lbs/bushel, the developing crop may produce up to 180 lbs of Valley ponderosa seed. The two portions of the seed orchard contain different sets of genetic materials, with some overlap. Phase II contains a wider selection of sources than does Phase I. At present, there are a total of 484 trees in Phase II.
Photo by Larry Miller
Flowers that may provided harvestable cones in two years.
Planned Changes to the Valley Ponderosa
Based on the foregoing considerations, ODF has decided to reduce the size of the valley pine seed orchard at Schroeder over the next several years. Here are the key components of the plan:
- Maintain the full seed orchard, 14 acres, through the 2012 cone harvest.
- Protect the developing cone crop according to best management practices.
- Harvest the full cone crop in the fall of 2012: Collect small half sib family lots to fill missing lots of parent tree seed. Bulk the rest of the crop
- In the spring of 2013, graft selections from those parent trees that have not produced any individual lot seed for ex situ gene conservation. At this writing, this should involve about 54 of the original 166 trees.
- Continue to market Willamette Valley ponderosa pine seed through the Oregon Forest Tree Seed Bank.
- Remove Phase I of the orchard following the 2012 cone harvest.
- For cone crops after 2012, request that WVPPCA members to declare their intention to purchase seed before harvest. ODF will harvest according to this plan.
- In the fall of 2013, ship grafted stock to Cascade Timber and the BLM Tyrrell Orchard. These two WVPPCA members have agreed to take the grafted stock and establish clonal archives on their properties, in partial fulfillment of their membership obligation.
- By June 30, 2014, remove an additional three acres of Phase II, leaving a final orchard size of 4 acres.
ODF expects the 2012 harvest to produce about 180 lbs of seed, adding significantly to the stores on hand. Removal of an additional portion of Phase II will make the orchard much more appropriately sized for the anticipated demand for Valley ponderosa seed. This plan will accomplish a significant reduction in cost for ODF-State Forests, while maintaining the productive capacity to produce high quality Valley ponderosa pine seed for family forest landowners. Importantly, ODF-State Forests has ensured that the genetic resources of Willamette Valley ponderosa pine remain conserved.