The Forest Health Initiative (FHI) was born out of an unequivocal need to restore the health of North American forests. Globalization, changing climate, restrictions on forest management, and other factors threaten the health of an estimated 60 million of acres of forest land in the United States. Restoring forest health is vital to protect the ecological, economic, and cultural values these forests provide.
The Endowment’s approach to forest health is rooted in both traditional bridge-building and partnerships, and 21st Century biotechnology. Summits between the U.S. and Canadian forest services are enhancing collaboration on shared challenges. Bringing people, organizations, and governments together to work cooperatively for forests and the forest industry is a hallmark of the Endowment’s playbook for success.
On the futuristic side, the Endowment is boldly venturing where few others have gone before, harnessing modern biotechnology to tackle the pressing challenges posed by invasive, exotic insects and diseases. Using genetic engineering techniques to develop a blight-resistant American chestnut is the pilot effort in this arena. Most recently, the Endowment launched the P3Nano initiative. This program explores the potential of nanotechnology to simultaneously create additional value and conservation opportunities for working forests.
This program advances the scientific use of biotechnology to address forest health challenges, while also considering regulatory issues and the need for better social understanding of the concept. Developing blight-resistant American chestnut using transgenic techniques was the first project tackled.
Phase I work saw success in almost every objective: Sequencing the Chinese chestnut tree genome; inserting blight resistant genes from Chinese chestnut into the American chestnut; and developing early disease screening (year 1) as opposed to the current “plant and wait” strategy (4-6 years).
Phase II includes field testing for resistance in plantings; review of potential environmental concerns that could lead to roadblocks for out-planting; and assessment of public attitudes and messaging to potentially support use of biotechnology to address forest health.
Canada and the U.S. share the longest undefended border of any two nations and together represent the second largest forest expanse on the planet. Our shared forests are increasingly under attack by endemic and exotic pests that are currently impacting hundreds of millions of acres. Forest pests don’t respect geopolitical boundaries. At the same time the scope, pace, and costs of response are out-stripping already tight public resource agency budgets. To help address this challenge, the Endowment and the two federal forest agencies-- USDA Forest Service and Canadian Forest Service -- launched a consortium to plan strategic, cross-border science and research that could yield more effective response and management of our shared forest resource.
To date, two international meetings have been held to develop and implement shared approaches to the science of forest health.
P3 Nano was launched in the summer of 2013. Its primary goal is advancing the development of U.S. commercial facilities producing cellulosic nanomaterial at scale to showcase the potential of these materials in a variety of products and applications. The public private partnership will showcase the contribution of cellulosic nanomaterial to the economy and the environment. Wood based nanotechnology will create additional value and conservation opportunities for working forests and help keep forests as forest. It can also strengthen rural America by creating new family-wage jobs, developing additional high-tech outputs from the forest products sector, and stimulating invention of renewable products that have substantial environmental benefits.