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Use of fire and silvicultural techniques for whitebark pine restoration: Successes, caveats, and assessment techniques.
Keane, Robert*,1, Kendall, Katherine2, Crabtree, Robert3, 1 USDA Forest Service, Missoula, MT, USA2 USDI USGS, West Glacier, MT3 Yellowstone Ecological Research Center, Bozeman, MT
ABSTRACT- Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) is a keystone species in upper subalpine forests of many parts of the northern Rocky Mountains and Cascades in the United States and Canada. These diverse ecosystems have been declining in parts of its range because of recent mountain pine beetle (Dentroctonous ponderosae) and blister rust (Cronartium ribicola) epidemics, and advancing succession from fire exclusion. An extensive restoration study is returning native ecological processes to declining whitebark pine forests using prescribed fires and silvicultural cuttings. Planting nursery growth whitebark pine seedlings with some rust resistance has had mixed success. Preliminary results indicate these restoration treatments are successfully restoring the fire processes at a small scale, but many challenges need to be met to achieve landscape scale whitebark pine ecosystem restoration. Seed collection in stands with high mortality from blister rust yields planting materials with enhanced rust-resistance. Planting nursery- grown whitebark pine seedlings with some rust resistance has also had mixed success related to the time of year planting was done and the amount of precipitation after planting. An important phase in restoration is prioritizing stands and landscapes in need of restoration. Remote sensing assessment techniques using Thematic Mapper (TM) and hyperspectral imagery were evaluated. TM is useful for identification of whitebark pine habitat type and hyperspectral imagery was highly accurate in identification of blister rust symptoms such as red needle flagging. Remote sensing techniques have the potential to map and assess whitebark pine stands across large areas. We will present current efforts at assessing the status of whitebark pine across its range, and then discuss prescribed fire; silvicultural and planting efforts to restore this valuable species at stand to landscape scales. One thing is certain; continuation of current management of this species will ultimately result in local to regional extinctions of this important species.
KEY WORDS: Whitebark pine, prescribed fire, hyperspectral imagery, restoration