Economic Evaluations of Tree Improvement for Planted Forests: A Systematic Review


  • Wei-Yew Chang The University of British Columbia
  • Shuo Wang University of Alberta
  • Chris Gaston The University of British Columbia
  • Julie Cool The University of British Columbia
  • Henry An University of Alberta
  • Barb R. Thomas University of Alberta


economics, benefit-cost analysis, tree improvement, improved regeneration material, genetic gain


This paper reviews the literature on the economic evaluations of tree improvement for planted forests and
investigates whether or not using improved reforestation stock from tree improvement programs is a good
investment. The main findings from systematic web-based searches show that (1) tree improvement is an
effective tool to improve forest productivity and to realize financial returns; (2) economic gains from wood
production with selection for breeding traits (e.g., high-volume yield or height growth) are the main reasons
forest managers adopt new biotechnologies in tree improvement; (3) cost-benefit analysis is the primary empirical
approach for estimating the economic effects of tree improvement for planted forests; and (4) there is very little
literature on estimating the non-market benefits (e.g., improved watershed protection, amenities, or conservation
of genetic diversity) that tree improvement brings, using non-market valuation techniques. The recent introduction
of new biotechnologies in tree improvement, such as genomics-assisted tree breeding (GATB), can achieve
genetic gains in selected traits more quickly and effectively than traditional breeding approaches, providing
economic incentives for forest managers to use better quality stock for planted forests. Therefore, we suggest
that future research should (1) consider the additional benefit, extra research and development costs, and time
saved by applying new biotechnologies in tree improvement (e.g., GATB) in the cost-benefit analysis; (2) investigate
the trade-offs between timber volume and wood quality traits and assess the economic effects of new
biotechnologies in tree improvement along different stages of the forestry supply chain; and (3) explicitly account
for the non-market trait values for the targeted breeding traits (e.g., drought/pest resistance) so that tree
improvement programs can contribute to sustainable production systems. Economic analyses along these lines
could help policy makers, forest managers, and forest company owners better understand the trade-offs of
alternative breeding objectives and make economically efficient investment decisions for planted forests.


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