The Montana Department of Natural Resources (DNRC), Swan State Forest and the USFS, Flathead National Forest have joined forces to restore whitebark pine across jurisdictional boundaries impacted by the 2015 Squeezer Fire. The planting of 13,250 containerized whitebark pine seedlings took place on June 18th, on a 55-acre area, including 15 acres on DNRC lands and 40 acres on National Forest Service (NFS) lands.
“Whitebark pine mortality in our area is the highest in the United States, primarily due to extensive white pine blister rust infections,” stated Melissa Jenkins, Flathead National Forest Silvicuturist. “Planting is the most effective way to restore whitebark in our area because natural regeneration is unlikely due to the limited number of remaining healthy cone bearing trees, and natural selection has eliminated the highly rust susceptible trees, so the seedlings we plant come from ‘mother’ trees with much higher levels of blister rust resistance.”
Nick Aschenwald, DNRC Swan Unit Manager added, “This project ensures that trees with increased levels of rust resistance will become re-established on sites that historically supported whitebark pine, in an area where natural regeneration is unlikely to occur.”
Funding for the seedlings on the NFS lands was provided by Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Funding. Funding for the seedlings on the DNRC portion of the area, along with some of the cost for the contract and contract administration was provided through a partnership with American Forests. NFS funds covered the remainder of the costs.
The Flathead National Forest, in cooperation with MT DNRC, are using the principles of the Range-Wide Restoration Strategy for Whitebark Pine, 2012 to restore whitebark pine. The Flathead National Forest and MT DNRC are also members of the Crown of the Continent Hi5 Working Group, a multi-agency, transboundary group working together to restore whitebark pine in the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem (CCE).
The ecological importance of whitebark pine and the challenges it faces are well-documented. Its ecological benefits include runoff regulation, a food source for over 100 wildlife species (including the threatened grizzly bear), and it’s “nurse” role in allowing other vegetation to establish in the harsh conditions at high elevations. It’s challenges are from unprecedented mortality and an uncertain future due to blister rust, fire suppression, mountain pine beetle and climate change; challenges so ominous that the United States Fish & Wildlife Service has determined it is the first tree species ever warranted for a Threatened and Endangered species listing.
“We are excited to be partnering with the DNRC to restore this important species and its ecological benefits across administrative boundaries in an area where it is ecologically suited,” stated Chip Weber, Flathead National Forest Supervisor.