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WBPCC

Upper subalpine whitebark pine forests are rapidly declining throughout western North America because of the interacting and cumulative effects of historical and current mountain pine beetle outbreaks, fire exclusion policies, and white pine blister rust. Mitigation of these effects through active restoration and management is being attempted. However, many feel that projected warmer future climates will severely reduce whitebark pine high-elevation habitat, restricting the population to the tops of mountains or north of the U.S./Canada border.

Very few researchers have studied the effects of rapidly changing climate on whitebark pine ecology. There are few studies documenting how whitebark pine has responded to the past two decades of warmer, drier conditions. It is speculated, and modeling studies support, that climate change could “push” whitebark pine “off the top of the mountain” by moving its lower elevation limit above the tallest peaks. However, recent modeling efforts have shown that whitebark pine might be maintained provided that stand-replacing fires predicted during the next 50 years provide a large, competition-free area in which to grow. Whitebark pine also has other advantages – high genetic diversity, moderate to high adaptability, and demonstrated resistance to blister rust. These competitive advantages must be considered when predicting the future of whitebark pine.

This study is designed to gather the field data necessary to document changes in growth, regeneration, and mortality of whitebark pine and its associates in the upper subalpine fir forests of the U.S. northern Rocky Mountains. From these data, scientists should be able to document the growth, regeneration, and mortality of all trees association with whitebark pine forests and assess if there have been significant changes over the past 20 years. Field crews continued to collect data, during the 2015 field season, throughout Idaho, western Montana, and northern Wyoming, with the goal of completing 100 climate change plots throughout all of the area inhabited by whitebark pine in the lower 48 states. Results from this study can be used to help guide management actions to restore this valuable species across its range.

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

Photo: Whitebark pine seedling cluster

Whitebark pine seedling cluster. Photo courtesy of Anna Schoettle / U.S. Forest Service.

Photo: Whitebark pine seedling cluster

Whitebark pine seedling cluster. Photo courtesy of Anna Schoettle / U.S. Forest Service.

Modified: Apr 12, 2018

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