New research chair will look into the future of forests

As the inaugural holder of the U of A's Endowed Chair in Forest Growth & Yield, Robert Froese will explore how forests will develop in the future and translate his findings to help inform forest industry efforts toward financial and environmental sustainability. (Photo: Supplied)

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The work of the $4-million endowed position will help inform forest companies as they sustainably manage land for timber, biodiversity and more.

Robert Froese can tell you the exact moment he knew forestry would be his lifelong career. He was an undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia, standing in the forest with his classmates.

“My professor went crashing into the woods … and he came back with a big Douglas-fir branch,” said Froese. “It was rainy and he had needles smeared on his face and his jacket was all askew. He was just so passionate about forests and trees—and I knew I was in the right place. I wanted to be that kind of person.”

Nearly 30 years later, Froese has a PhD in forestry and decades of teaching and research experience. And now, he’s bringing that passion to the University of Alberta as the new Endowed Chair in Forest Growth & Yield.

As chair, Froese will build an applied research program that uses data to measure and map how forests will grow in the future. The forestry industry can use these findings to manage forests in a way that’s sustainable for both the environment and the economy. The position, beginning July 1, is funded by a $4.125-million endowment from the Forest Resource Improvement Association of Alberta, supported by nine of the association’s member forestry companies.

“It’s never been sufficient for me to just stop at research. I’ve always wanted to see it translated into practice—because I’m a forester. It’s in my nature,” said Froese.

An expert in growth and yield, Froese has worked at Michigan Technological University since 2003, balancing duties in research, teaching and service. At the U of A, he will use research to project how challenges like climate change, forest fires and other factors will affect the landscape. Using existing data on forest growth, he will create models of what those forests will look like hundreds of years from now. This research will inform industry efforts to best manage the land for timber, biodiversity, wildlife and water resources. Beyond research, Froese will also educate young professionals for careers in the forestry industry.

“Healthy forests benefit all Albertans. Under Chair Robert Froese, this important research will help the province balance the increased demand for wood and wood products with our sustainable forest management commitments. Our forests belong to Albertans, so the investments we make today will ensure they’re around for generations to come,” said Devin Dreeshen, minister of agriculture and forestry.

Forestry companies and the Alberta government have both identified a forward-looking approach to growth and yield as a priority, said Todd Nash, general manager of the Forest Resource Improvement Association of Alberta.

“We’re bringing in a really high-calibre researcher who has excellent academic qualifications, but who also understands forests at the ground level,” added Nash. “We’re further strengthening the relationship between industry and academia.”

The chair position will be housed in the Department of Renewable Resources in the U of A’s Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES), where Froese will also teach undergraduate and graduate students.

“The U of A has the structure to support a research chair and to enable Dr. Froese to succeed in this area,” said Nash. “And the industry has a long-standing relationship with the U of A School of Forestry. There’s a long history of collaboration and partnership.”

The chair position, and the resulting research, will benefit the province well into the future, said Stan Blade, dean of ALES.

“This collaborative approach means our researchers can bring innovative solutions right to companies on the ground. This will help them make the best decisions for the forest, their employees and Albertans,” he said.

Now, Froese is planning his return to “the West,” as he calls it, and looking forward to building relationships with Alberta’s foresters.

“I’ll start by getting out into the woods, meeting as many people as I can and learning about their corner of the forest,” said Froese. “And, of course, reacquainting myself with some of my old friends—lodgepole pine and white spruce.”

The Endowed Chair in Forest Growth & Yield is supported by:


Source: University of Alberta