Initiative Background

With continued globalization and a changing climate, threats to forests will increase in coming years potentially leading to catastrophic change to forest ecosystems. While traditional tree breeding and propagation approaches will continue to have a prominent place in forest management and restoration, the severity and types of threats facing the nation’s forested areas require the U.S. to respond more quickly to protect the future of our nation’s forests. Biotechnology can play a vital role in the ability to tackle today’s environmental problems. However, advances in biotechnology are needed to effectively address these challenges if forest health is to be maintained and enhanced. Further, it is important to determine the limitations of biotechnology for individual species restoration and for the protection from catastrophic loss. Acquiring this knowledge will enable partners to better respond to short- and long-term conservation needs and demands. We recognize that science is only part of the answer. Biotechnology can play a critical role in addressing forest health threats when strong societal support and robust regulatory processes undergird the use of these scientific tools.

Forest Health

Over the last 50 years, America’s forests have faced increasing stress from diseases, pests, fungi, pollution, a changing climate, and other forces. The number of threats to tree species across the nation’s forests are the highest they have ever been. Destructive invasive threats contributed to about 10 million acres of tree mortality in forests in 2004.

The American Chestnut

"You can still see American chestnut trees in the forests of the Southern Appalachians, but most are small, mere echoes of the giants that once fed wildlife and livestock and provided that famous spreading shade for farmhouses and city streets alike.

Historic American Chestnut

In the first half of the 20th century, nearly 4 billion of these iconic trees were felled by a lethal fungus known as chestnut blight, and southern forests and their inhabitants were transformed by what has been called one of the greatest ecological disasters of all time. The American chestnut tree grew tall and straight - 80 feet or more high and several feet in diameter - and was often free of branches for the first 50 feet or so. Because of its strong wood, the chestnut was known in the Southern Appalachians as a “cradleto- grave” tree; its strong, rot-resistant wood served a multitude of purposes including home building, fencing—and of course, cradles and coffins."

Excerpt from the June 2008 issue of CompasS. From the Southern Research Station (SRS), Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Read more from this issue.


10/2009 to 03/2010: Annual Report #1 - Executive Summary
07/2010 to 06/2011: Annual Report #2 - Executive Summary
10/01/2011: Policy Response Plan
02/01/2012: Genomics Update
02/01/2012: Clonal Propagation Update
02/01/2012: Transgenic Update
09/30/2012: Annual Report #3 - Executive Summary

Meeting Agendas

01/28/2009: Initial meeting of the FHI
06/25/2009: SEG Meeting #1
11/09/2009: Science Vector Workshop
05/18/2010: Early Screening for Blight Resistance Workshop

Meeting Presentations

Annual Meeting 2011 - Biological Science Presentations