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Whitebark pine experiment takes aim at blister rust

Oct 21. 14

By Contributor, The Nelson Daily

A unique tree-planting experiment by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations started late this summer at Idaho Peak in the Kokanee Range of the Selkirk Mountains near New Denver.

Nearly 1,000 Whitebark pine seedlings were hand-planted by a six-person crew in the subalpine near the old wildfire lookout, high above Slocan Lake at an elevation of almost 2,300 metres.

The Whitebark pine is an endangered high-mountain tree. But the seedlings planted at Idaho Peak may be resistant to the destructive white pine blister rust disease, which has killed or infected most Whitebark pines in the Selkirk Mountains.

In 2011, a search for healthy, disease-free trees was conducted throughout the Kootenays. Forty trees were identified for seed collection.

The Whitebark pine seedlings planted at Idaho Peak are from these potentially disease-resistant parents. Each planted seedling is tagged according to the parent tree that it came from.

Survivorship will be monitored over the next several years. Those seedlings that thrive will indicate a natural resistance to the disease, and the original parent trees will be targeted for future seed collection and restoration efforts in the region.

In addition to the Idaho Peak site, 1,000 Whitebark pine seedlings were also planted on Sale Mountain near Revelstoke and 2,000 on Puddingburn Mountain near Cranbrook/Kimberley.

Quick Facts:

The Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) has evolved to become an important tree in the high-elevation forests of B.C.’s Columbia and Rocky mountains.
Whitebark pines stabilize steep slopes, influence the amount of snow melt by sustaining snow drifts, and provide critical food, cover and shelter for many wildlife species.
Whitebark pine seeds are high in protein. Several wildlife species rely on the seeds as food, including the Clark’s nutcracker, red squirrel, grizzly and black bear.
The Whitebark pine is a hardy tree, but is declining throughout its range due to threats that include white pine blister rust. The Whitebark pine was listed as endangered in 2012 under the federal Species at Risk Act.
In the early 1900s, a shipment of white pine seedlings arrived in North America from Europe. The seedlings carried white pine blister rust to a continent where native pine trees have no natural resistance. A large percentage of North America’s five-needle pines have already died, and most of the survivors are infected. Resistance in naturally occurring trees is very rare.

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