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Individual Highlight

Restoring whitebark pine ecosystems in the face of climate change

Photo of It is common to find mature whitebark pine trees well over 400 years of age as seen in this image, especially on harsh growing sites.It is common to find mature whitebark pine trees well over 400 years of age as seen in this image, especially on harsh growing sites.Snapshot : Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) forests are declining across most of their range in North America because of the combined effects of mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) outbreaks, fire exclusion policies, and the exotic pathogen Cronartium ribicola, which infects five-needle white pines and causes the disease white pine blister rust. Predicted changes in climate may exacerbate whitebark pine decline by (1) accelerating succession to more shade tolerant conifers, (2) creating environments that are unsuitable for the species, (3) increasing the frequency and severity of mountain pine beetle outbreaks and wildland fire events, and (4) facilitating the spread of blister rust. Yet, whitebark pine tolerates a variety of stressful conditions and the broad genetic diversity to adapt to changes in climate and disturbance.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Keane II, Robert E. Holsinger, Lisa M.
Research Location : Idaho; Montana; Wyoming; California; Oregon; Washington
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2017
Highlight ID : 1344


In this report, Forest Service scientists present guidelines for restoring whitebark pine under future climates based on an existing international rangewide restoration strategy. General restoration guidelines considering effects of climate change are given for each of the strategy’s guiding principles: (1) promote resistance to blister rust, (2) conserve genetic diversity, (3) save seed sources, and (4) employ restoration treatments. They then provide specific guidelines for each of the strategy’s actions: (1) assess condition, (2) plan activities, (3) reduce disturbance impacts, (4) gather seed, (5) grow seedlings, (6) protect seed sources, (7) implement restoration treatments, (8) plant burned areas, (9) monitor activities, and (10) support research. The scientists used information from two sources to account for climate change impacts on whitebark pine restoration activities. First, they conducted an extensive and comprehensive review of the literature to assess climate change impacts on whitebark pine ecology and management. Second, they augmented this review with results from a comprehensive simulation experiment using the spatially explicit, ecological process model FireBGCv2. This modeling experiment simulated various climate change, management, and fire exclusion scenarios. They also ran FireBGCv2 to evaluate the effects of specific rangewide restoration actions with and without climate change. They analyzed two simulated response variables (whitebark pine basal area, proportion of the landscape dominated by whitebark pine) to explore which restoration scenarios are likely to succeed. The research findings indicate that management intervention actions such as planting rust-resistant seedlings and employing proactive restoration treatments can return whitebark pine to the high mountain settings of western North America to create resilient upper subalpine forests for the future. The report is written as a companion guide to the rangewide restoration strategy for planning, designing, implementing, and evaluating fine-scale restoration activities for whitebark pine by addressing climate change impacts.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • University of Colorado Denver