The Edward Bonner Tree Improvement Centre near Moonbeam, Ontario, in the heart of the great northern clay belt, was originally established in 1948 as a tree nursery to produce seedlings for the purpose of general boreal forest regeneration in harvested sites. Since 1952, genetic tree improvement programs have also been underway at the site.
Covering 503 hectares, the Bonner Centre now encompasses seed production areas, seedling seed orchards, super-seedling plantations, and clonal archives, all of which contribute to the improvement of tree growth and fiber quality. The entire facility is situated on a glacial esker (a ridge of sand composed of sand and rock deposits from an ancient glacial Over).
The Bonner Centre was once actually used as a potato farm, Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company Limited (now Tembec Inc.) purchased the land in 1948. Spruce Falls gave the area to the Ontario government in 1976, when the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) assumed forest regeneration responsibilities. The facility was given its name in recognition of Edward Bonner, a former chief forester for Spruce Falls who was largely responsible for its creation.
In the mid 1990's, budget and staffing cutbacks at OMNR led to a hiatus in funding to, and maintenance of the Centre. Although the land is still owned by the Crown, the Forestry Research Partnership, which includes Tembec, the Canadian Forest Service, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and the Canadian Ecology Centre has taken over management of the entire complex, including the near priceless value manifest in over a half century of boreal forest regeneration history.
Tree Improvement and Seed Production
The Bonner Centre houses several seed production areas. Those areas are pure and uniform stands of a specific tree species managed for the purpose of producing seed to be used in boreal regeneration programs. There are approximately 25 hectares of black spruce seed production plantations at Bonner. With proper spacing and pruning, there is a potential for these areas to produce over 13 million seeds per year.
Seedling Seed Orchards
Seedling seed orchards are developed for the production of genetically superior tree seed. The tree seed, in essence, becomes the fruit of the orchard. Tree seedlings are established from the seed of superior or plus trees selected from local forests. All of the offsprings or seedlings grown from the seed of one superior tree become known as a family. They are then planted in a specifically designated orchard to allow for random cross-fertilization. The families with poor performance are eventually removed from the orchard so that only the best growing families are left to produce superior seeds (a process called roguing). There are now seed orchards established in three fields of the Bonner Centre. These orchards cover 35 hectares, and contain 70,000 trees.
Often misunderstood, the cloning of trees is utilized in reproducing and preserving the genetic makeup of the superior growing trees. In truth, cloning is a misnomer for this process. It is actually vegetative propagation; similar to what is done with extracting a cutting from a houseplant and having it root to grow a new plant. There is no manipulation of genetic material involved, as with recent developments in the cloning of animals. Branches from superior black spruce are cut and grafted. These trees are then planted in designated fields, and are managed to preserve the genetic makeup of the superior black spruce tree. They are also used in genetic research, and tree breeding programs.
The Forestry Research Partnership is fostering a resurgence of cooperative science, research, and development at the Bonner Centre. All member organizations of the partnership have been involved in recent efforts to bring about the production of quality seed for forest regeneration programs within the boreal forest. Genetic tree improvement has been the focus of these revived science and research efforts since 2000.
In addition to its use as a general seed production orchard, and for genetic tree improvement, several planting experiments and trial practices have been conducted at the Bonner Centre over the years; Red pine and Scots pine have been planted along the main road into the site. There are also stands of European, Siberian and Japanese larch, originally planted from 1951 onward, a stand of jack pine from 1954, and some red pine from 1948. A series of white spruce plantations dating from 1961 contain some intensively managed and thinned sections that provide for interesting comparison. In general, the density managed trees have a much greater volume than those trees of the same age, left unmanaged. In 2001, commercial thinning in a stand of white spruce was conducted as part of a Forestry Research Partnership trial.