Whitebark Pine

tentree is excited to be partnering with Parks Canada in an effort to revitalize the whitebark pine.

Blister rust is a fungal disease that has caused up to 90% mortality rate in Whitebark pine trees, which are a crucial component of alpine ecosystems. But researchers have found hope—1 in 10,000 of these trees is resistant to this crippling disease. Parks Canada is working hard to identify, protect the resistant trees, and together with tentree, plant the blister rust-resistant seedlings to help ensure the population thrives for generations to come.

Total Trees Planted

Why the Whitebark Pine? Why in the Mountain Parks?

The whitebark pine is typically the highest-elevation pine tree found in mountain ranges and often marks the tree line. We’ve partnered with Parks Canada, the Canadian agency which oversees protection and management of our national parks, to reach out and resonate with the people in our parks to help protect these pine trees that have become symbolic to our Canadian mountainscapes. 

The whitebark pine has been classified as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). A study in the mid-2000s showed that whitebark pine had declined by 41 percent in the western Cascades due to two primary threats: blister rust and pine beetles

The whitebark pine is an important source of food for many granivorous birds and small mammals, most importantly the Clark's nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana), one of the main seed dispersers of the pine. Clark's nutcrackers store away or “cache” about 30,000 to 100,000 seeds each year in small, widely distributed caches, and usually under 2 to 3 cm (0.75 to 1.25 in) of soil or gravel substrates. Nutcrackers retrieve these seed caches during times of food scarcity and to feed their young. Cache sites selected by nutcrackers are often favorable for germination of seeds and survival of seedlings. Those caches not eaten by the time the snow melts help regenerate the forests. Consequently, whitebark pine often grows in clumps of several trees, originating from a single cache of two to 15 seeds.

Other animals also depend upon the whitebark pine including Douglas squirrels—grizzly bears and American black bears often raid squirrel middens for whitebark pine seeds to prepare for hibernation. Squirrels, northern flickers, and mountain bluebirds often nest in whitebark pines, and elk and blue grouse use whitebark pine communities as summer habitat.

The Problem

The Trees

The Whitebark pine is integral to the health of the Canadian alpine ecosystems. This magnificent tree provides habitat and food for wildlife and maintains soil stabilization in the delicate ecosystems found in the Alpine.

Whitebark Pine

Whitebark pine is a sun-loving species that is often the first to regrow following a fire. As an Endangered species, the whitebark pine’s population has been rapidly declining. For the past 19 years, Parks Canada has led the project in restoring and protecting the whitebark pine in the mountain national parks.

Planting Process

1

Help the Natural Process: Clark's Nutcracker

Whitebark pine is a keystone species that relies completely on one bird: the Clark's Nutcracker. The Clark’s Nutcracker cracks open the pine’s cones and hide the seeds in caches. The bird then seeks the seed caches during times of food scarcity—the forgotten seeds then grow into trees. However, these trees are dying off so quickly that this natural process can’t keep up to ensure the survival of the white bark pine.

2

Cage and Protect Healthy Pine Cones

Since we can’t rely solely on the Clark’s Nutcracker, we have to take the process into our own hands. Parks Canada staff go up to the treeline in October to seek Whitebark pine trees that are (1) producing cones and (2) are surviving in a stand (group of trees) affected by blister rust. This shows that the tree’s DNA is resistant to the disease. They then put a protective cage around these cones to ensure they won’t be eaten or become lost. Since these trees are located in subalpine areas —it can take anywhere from 3-12 hours to hike to the planting sites.

3

Collect, Grow, and Plant Seeds

Once the cones have matured in the next year, Parks staff hike back up to collect seeds by climbing trees using ropes and harnesses. They then grow the seedlings at local nurseries until the seedlings are two years old, they then work with other scientists to test the seeds to confirm if they are resistant to whitebark pine rust.

4

Plant Healthy, Resistant Trees

Once the seedlings are ready, tree planters are hired to plant them back into the forests. In some cases, the trees have to be delivered by helicopter because the locations are so remote, it would take an incredible amount of time and resources to hike thousands of trees up to such high elevations. Once the trees have been delivered, veteran Parks staff handle the planting of these invaluable seedlings.

The Impact

Our Partner

Meet Your Planting Team

Brenda Shepherd

Conservation Biologist for Jasper National Park of Canada

Kevin Gedling

Partnering and Engagement Officer

Brenda Shepherd

Conservation Biologist for Jasper National Park of Canada

Kevin Gedling

Partnering and Engagement Officer