Barb Thomas

Barb Thomas

Department of Renewable Resources
University of Alberta

Chair title

Industrial Research Chair in Tree Improvement

Chair program

Industrial Research Chairs program


Associate Chair since 2014


Dr. Barb Thomas has been actively engaged in industrial tree improvement and policy development since 1996. More recently she was a founding member of Tree Improvement Alberta, which brought together all members of the tree improvement community in Alberta in a single organization. Through these collaborations, Dr. Thomas successfully developed the financial foundation needed to build the first Industrial Research Chair (IRC) in Tree Improvement (TI), and has now continued those relationships with the renewal of the IRC for a second term. Throughout this process, Dr. Thomas’s partners have brought a wealth of knowledge and data to the IRC program.

Seedlings produced and deployed from tree improvement programs in Alberta represents approximately 15-17% of the lodgepole pine and white spruce reforestation in Alberta. With the expansion of the energy sector as well as agricultural and urban areas, Alberta's forested land base is being continuously eroded. Yet this land base sustains forestry activities in many rural communities. One of the primary means of meeting wood fibre needs on this shrinking land base is through tree improvement. Breeding, testing and selecting well-adapted, fast-growing trees will produce the next generation of seedlings and cuttings for reforestation. In May 2020, the Alberta Government announced an increase in the annual allowable cut of up to 13%. The use of improved seeds and seedlings for reforestation is an obvious option for achieving this goal.

During the Chair’s first term, Dr. Thomas and her team successfully undertook/completed the eight projects proposed in the first grant application, filling knowledge gaps in programs for both hardwood and softwood species. In addition, two lab members have been successfully hired into tree improvement positions, one in industry (Alberta), the other in Government (Nova Scotia), along with the training of 16+ summer undergraduates, a key objective of the IRC program. During the Chair’s second term, the team will now tackle questions related to optimizing outputs from realized gain trials (new to Alberta), the impact of nursery production on loss of gain and diversity, expand the work on elite breeding and maximizing growth in white spruce, and thoroughly review the seed orchard production across Canada. The IRC program has provided industry and government with new information, expanded collaborations with the University of Alberta, and exposed all trainees to ‘real-world’ constraints, realities and challenges to changing paradigms in a very traditional field of study.


  • Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries Inc.
  • Alberta Newsprint Company Timber Ltd.
  • Canadian Forest Products Ltd.
  • Weyerhaeuser Company Limited, Grande Prairie Timberlands
  • Weyerhaeuser Company Limited, Pembina Timberlands
  • Slave Lake Veneer (formerly Alberta Plywood Ltd.) a Division of West Fraser Mills Ltd.
  • Blue Ridge Lumber Inc., a Division of West Fraser Mills Ltd.
  • Hinton Wood Products, a division of West Fraser Mills Ltd.
  • Sundre Forest Products Inc., a Division of West Fraser Mills Ltd.
  • Millar Western Forest Products Ltd.

Contact information

Department of Renewable Resources
University of Alberta



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