Public Preferences for Planting Genetically Improved Poplars on Public Land for Biofuel Production in Western Canada

Curtis Rollins, Peter C. Boxall and Marty K. Luckert.
Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Interest in finding feasible alternatives to agricultural biofuel feedstock is growing. However, alternatives face numerous challenges before large-scale implementation may be possible. One such alternative feedstock is tree biomass. While forestry could be a significant contributor to Canadian biofuel production, unique challenges must be evaluated. For instance, the majority of economic activity in the Canadian forestry sector occurs on public lands where the government regulates the types of trees that may be planted for future harvest. Thus, many tree breeding programs aimed at increasing the suitability of wood fibres for biofuel conversion cannot currently be applied to Canada’s abundant public land-base.

We examine public preferences for planting genetically improved poplars on public lands in western Canada, and using poplar biomass to produce biofuels. Policy scenarios consider the use of three different breeding methods (traditional selective breeding, genomics-assisted breeding, and genetic modification), each with and without poplars being used for biofuels. We employ a choice experiment to provide alternative outcomes to policy scenarios and to investigate differences among characteristics of respondents.

Overall, a majority of respondents voted in favour of policies that allowed improved poplars on public land if fibre is used to generate biofuels. Adding biofuel production to a policy scenario increases the probability of acceptance by 17-32%. In contrast, the various types of breeding technology do not matter as much regarding public acceptance. Responses differ among segments of the population, but these differences do not greatly influence choices. Attributes that increase the probability of acceptance are: being a male, being from Alberta, and being from a population centre of 10,000-100,000 people (relative to centers > 100,000). Attributes that decrease the probability of acceptance are: age, being from British Columbia, and being from a population centre of < 10,000 (relative to centers > 100,000).