Endowment CEO Carlton Owen congratulates University of Georgia Professor Dr. Scott Merkle on being voted the inaugural Forest Innovation Reviews (FIRz) idea “Most Likely to Make a Lasting Difference” as other FIRz presenters look on.

Inaugural Forest Innovation Reviews (FIRz) Event Featured a Broad Range of Ways to Shape a Brighter Future for Forests and Forest Products

U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, Greenville, SC

For IMMEDIATE RELEASE (September 25, 2019) The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities (Endowment) is pleased to announce that Dr. Scott Merkle, Associate Dean for Research and Professor at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia (UGA), and his idea on how to restore threatened and endangered tree species was voted “Most Likely to Make a Lasting Difference” at the first annual Forest Innovation Reviews (FIRz). The Endowment awarded Dr. Merkle $10,000 to help advance his idea.

Held on September 18, the inaugural FIRz event featured ten presenters, discussing innovative approaches for solving some of today’s most significant natural resources challenges. Dr. Merkle posited how identifying “lingering,” or individual trees that appear to resist exotic pests and diseases could unlock inherent genetic resistance to save some of our most cherished tree species.  His proposal would engage citizen-scientists via the treesnap.org web application with scientists in locating potentially resistant trees Tree-breeders and tree-propagators would then be recruited to help confirm genetic resistance and produce trees for restoration plantings. “The combination of these groups working together could result in pest and pathogen-resistant trees for landowners and others to plant in a relatively short time,” said Merkle. “This approach involves no genetic engineering or even hybrid breeding. Instead, it uses the genes that our native trees already possess, but greatly accelerates the repopulation of the species using conventional breeding, plant propagation, and planting.”

“The competition was fierce, and the voting margin between all ten speakers close. I’m certainly glad it wasn’t up to me to choose the winner,” said Endowment President and CEO Carlton Owen. “FIRz is the nation’s first forum for surfacing the best new ideas for the health and future of our forests and the values and services that they provide for our planet.”

Nine additional presenters gave short, powerful talks at FIRz, including Jessica Fox, Electric Power Research Institute; Dr. David L. Kulhavy, Stephen F. Austin State University; Dr. Wayne Lei, Oregon Torrefaction; Kim Nelson, GranBio USA; Dr. Kimberly Ong, Vireo Advisors, LLC; Zack Parisa, SilviaTerra; Charlie Redden, Taylor Guitars; Ewell Smith, Carolina Loggers Association;  and Buck Vaughan, The Conservation Fund. Each presentation was professionally filmed and will be released to the general public before year-end.

The second annual FIRz event will be hosted in 2020 by Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. “We are thrilled to be hosting this incredible event. We’re looking forward to bringing leaders across all areas of the forest landscape to campus and discussing the world’s most pressing issues surrounding our forests and ecosystems. It will also serve as a great showcase for our new facilities which highlight how innovative products and approaches can lead to healthy forests, ecosystems, and communities,” said Anthony S. Davis, interim dean of the College of Forestry.

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For more information, contact:
Carlton N. Owen
, President & CEO, 864-233-7646, carlton@runslikeclock.work
The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities (the Endowment) is a not-for-profit public charity working collaboratively with partners in the public and private sectors to advance systemic, transformative, and sustainable change for the health and vitality of the nation’s working forests and forest-reliant communities – www.usendowment.org; www.usendowment.org/what-we-do/innovation/forest-innovation-reviews-firz

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