You are here

Restoring Whitebark Pine Ecosystems (RWPE)

Exploring various prescribed burning and silvicultural techniques for restoring hitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) forests that are declining across most of their range in North America because of the combined effects of mountain pine beetles, white pine blister rust, and fire exclusion.

Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) forests are declining across most of their range in North America because of the combined effects of three factors: (1) several major mountain pine beetle epidemics that occurred over the last 70 years, (2) an extensive and successful fire exclusion management policy, and (3) extensive infections of the exotic white pine blister rust fungus (Cronartium ribicola). The loss of whitebark pine is serious for upper subalpine ecosystems because it is considered a keystone species across most of its range, producing large seeds that are an important food source for more than 110 animal species. This extensive, long-term study, named Restoring Whitebark Pine Ecosystems (RWPE), documents the effects of several ecosystem restoration treatments implement at five high elevation sites in the northern Rocky Mountains. These treatments included prescribed fire, thinning, selection cuttings, and fuel enhancement cuttings. We evaluated fuel consumption, tree mortality, and undergrowth vegetation response measured at three time periods: (1) prior to the treatment, (2) 1 year after the treatment(s), and (3) 5 years post-treatment (10 year post-treatment measurement is available for one site). Results show that the treatments provided desirable caching habitat for the seed dispersal vector – the Clark’s nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) - but the measured whitebark pine regeneration rates were quite low due to the (1) nutcrackers reclaiming many cached seeds, (2) lack of seed sources in nearby high rust-mortality stands, (3) severity of the site (high snow levels, erosive soils, and cold environments), (4) lack of plant cover, and (5) relatively short time since disturbance. Intermediate results from this study have been published and presented at various scientific conferences. There is a management guide that presents statistical summaries, treatment descriptions, and photographs by treatment unit at each time interval. This guide is intended as a reference to identify possible impacts of a restoration treatment at a fine scale by matching a proposed treatment for a stand to the most similar treatment unit presented in this report based on vegetation conditions, fire regime and geographical area. Since data summaries are for individual treatment units, there are no analyses of differences across treatment units or across research sites.

For geographical information on this project and how it fits with other Fire Lab Whitebark Pine research, visit the Whitebark Pine Story Map.

Photo: White bark pine fire

A prescribed burn in a treated whitebark pine stand.

Photo: silviculttural removal

Silvicultural removal of subalpine fir to reduce fuel loadings and restore whitebark pine.

15 year re-measurement of treated area- cut and burned
15 year re-measurement of treated area- burned
Modified: Apr 12, 2018

Select Publications & Products

Keane, Robert E.; Parsons, Russell A. 2010. Management guide to ecosystem restoration treatments: Whitebark pine forests of the northern Rocky Mountains, U.S.A. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-232. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 133 p.

Keane, R.E. and R. Parsons. 2010. Restoring whitebark pine ecosystems in the Northern Rocky Mountains, USA. Ecological Restoration 28(1):56-70.

Keane, R.E. 2011. Restoring whitebark pine ecosystems in the Northern Rocky Mountains, USA. Pages 338-348 In: Keane, Robert E.; Tomback, Diana F.; Murray, Michael P.; and Smith, Cyndi M., eds. 2011. The future of high-elevation, five-needle white pines in Western North America: Proceedings of the High Five Symposium. 28-30 June 2010; Missoula, MT. Proceedings RMRS-P-63. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 376 p.

Keane, R.E. and S.F. Arno. 1996. Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis) ecosystem restoration in western Montana. In: Arno, S.F. and Hardy, C.C., editors, The use of fire in forest restoration, a general session at the annual meeting of the Society of Ecosystem Restoration "Taking a broader view". Sept 14-16, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report INT-GTR-341. Pages 51-54.

Keane, R.E., S.F. Arno and C. Stewart. 1995. Restoration of upper subalpine whitebark pine ecosystems in western Montana. In: Mathiasen, R.L. editor, Proceedings of the 43 annual Western International Forest Disease Work Conference, Whitefish, Montana, USA. August 29-31, 1995. Pages 105-112.

Keane, R.E. and S.F. Arno. 2000. Restoration of whitebark pine ecosystems in western Montana and central Idaho. In: Proceedings of the Society of American Foresters 1999 National Convention. Portland, OR. Society of American Foresters, Bethesda, Washington DC. Pages 324-330.

Keane, R.E., S.F. Arno, and C. Stewart. 2000. Ecosystem-based management in the whitebark pine zone. In: Smith, H.Y. (ed.) 2000. The Bitterroot Ecosystem Management Research Project -- what we have learned: symposium proceedings; 1999 May 18-20; Missoula, MT. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. Proceedings RMRS-P-17 Pages 36-41