Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) has been declining across much of its range in North America because of the combined effects of mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) epidemics, fire exclusion policies, and widespread exotic blister rust infections. Whitebark pine seed is dispersed by a bird, the Clark's nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana), which caches in open, pattern-rich landscapes created by fire. This study was initiated in 1993 to investigate the effects of various restoration treatments on tree populations, fuel dynamics, and vascular plant cover on five sites in the U.S. northern Rocky Mountains. The objective of this study was to restore whitebark pine ecosystems using treatments that emulate the native fire regime-primarily combinations of prescribed fire, silvicultural cuttings, and fuel enhancement cuttings. The main effects assessed included tree mortality, fuel consumption, and vegetation response measured just prior to the treatment, one year after the treatment(s), and five years post-treatment. While all treatments that included prescribed fire created suitable nutcracker caching habitat, with many birds observed caching seed in the burned areas, there has yet to be significant regeneration in whitebark pine. All burn treatments resulted in high mortality in both whitebark pine and subalpine fir (> 40%). Fine woody fuel loadings marginally decreased after fire, but coarse woody debris more than doubled because of falling snags. Vascular species decreased in cover by 20% to 80% and remained low for five years. While the treatments were successful in creating conditions that favor whitebark pine regeneration, the high level of blister rust mortality in surrounding seed sources has reduced available seed, which then forced the nutcracker to reclaim most of the cached seed. Manual planting of whitebark pine seedlings is required to adequately restore these sites. A set of management guidelines is presented to guide restoration efforts.
Keane, Robert E.; Parsons, Russel A. 2010. Restoring whitebark pine forests of the northern Rocky Mountains, USA. Ecological Restoration 28(1):56-70.