Note: this is a guest post by the Grand Teton National Park Foundation in support of their “Restoring GTNP Whitebark Pine” project.
Grand Teton National Park has 9,300 acres of whitebark pine, and park ecologists are helping lead an ecosystem-wide strategy to conserve these forests. Non-native white pine blister rust is killing small whitebark and limber pines and, most importantly, affecting whitebark pine cone production. An epidemic of native mountain pine beetle is exacerbated by climatic warming trends and killing more trees than expected. In recent years, park biologists have identified pine stands that appear to be disease-resistant, ‘caged’ cones to protect them from seed predators, and collected the seeds for potential propagation to use in restoration if needed.
Our proposed project will accomplish propagation of disease-resistant seeds over the next two seasons, at a Forest Service plant nursery in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho where they are being held. Meanwhile, biologists will identify two 5-acre sites — likely in Death and/or Cascade Canyons — where whitebark pine seedlings would be planted in the fall and monitored to test the success of this restoration effort.
A 2007 study evaluated 210,000 whitebark pine seedlings plants across the Rockies from 1989 – 2005, and found that, on average, 75% of seedlings survived the first year of planting, and 30% were still alive 3-15 years later.
Recent monitoring in Glacier National Park has shown a 95% survival rate of seedlings when planted in carefully selected microsites. We will be using this strategy of planting in microsites which will be scouted out in the summer of 2010.
While parks are conservative in efforts to restore species in the wilderness, this project is a proactive experiment to test the likelihood of success should broader efforts be needed in priority sites (176,000 acres GYA-wide), as discussed in the ecosystem-wide strategy.
Ecologists consider whitebark pine a “keystone species”, which offers disproportionately critical “ecosystem services” compared to other species in the environment. As the US Fish and Wildlife Service evaluate the rarity of whitebark pine across the western landscape, we can help prepare for the possibility of added management action to maintain them in Grand Teton National Park.
Funds that are contributed to this project will help support special projects like this one, beyond what the federally appropriated funds can provide for park operations and maintenance. Your gift to this project, in addition to other gifts made through the Grand Teton National Park Foundation’s members, will help provide the $9,000 needed to plant new whitebark pine seedlings in Grand Teton National Park.
For more information and to make a donation to this project, please visit the Restoring GTNP Whitebark Pine project page.