Winds in the Wilderness: FSPW Volunteers Conduct Whitebark Pine Analysis

Posted on Sunday, September 28th, 2014

The ecological communities in northern Idaho’s subalpine environments have evolved under extreme conditions:  strong winds, intense insolation, and long, frigid winters with persistent snow pack are par for the course.  Bedrock remains scraped by glaciation into ancient peaks, its weathering slowed by these climatic juxtapositions.  Forest development occurs slowly.  The forests that are able to thrive here provide stabilization for healthy headwaters of this freshwater network.

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Whitebark pine skeleton. Photo by J. Costich Thompson.

Historically, Whitebark Pine forests have been one of these hardy and essential communities in our local mountain ranges.

The arboreal species is able to succeed in colonizing these rugged environments through the help of mammalian seed dispersers.  Birds, chipmunks, mice, squirrels and bears all have a share in spreading whitebark pine seed to pioneer substrates. In particular, the species Nucifraga columbniana (Clark’s nutcracker) and Ursus arctos horrbilis (Grizzly bear) have intimate relationships with this energy source, each having evolved with a dependency on the other.

Warming climatic trends, along with forest management policies that trend toward fire suppression, are reducing the available niches left for this ecologically important species.

As a part of a restoration effort occurring in the Lightning Creek “Treasured Landscape” on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest and Scotchman Peaks Roadless Area, USFS Specialists are researching potential whitebark pine forest management activities to help sustain these forests for the ecological benefits they provide.

Botany Crew: out to lunch.  Photo by Kristen Nowicki

Botany Crew: out to lunch. Photo by Kristen Nowicki

To support this endeavor, FSPW Volunteer Citizen Scientists attended two field events with the USFS Botany crew this September.  Together the crews assessed subalpine forest environments above Moose Lake, Quartz Creek, and Falls Creek.  They looked at the amount of trees present, their size, health, and potential cone bearing individuals with genetic resistance to problematic tree diseases.  Reaching these sites and performing such reconnaissance is often a substantial undertaking, as the distance required to reach them is long, and the terrain challenging.  Without volunteer assistance, the costs associated with conducting such research would be greatly increased.  FSPW and USFS’s cooperative partnership in this

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Volunteer Shane Sater performs blister-rust fungus analysis in a whitebark pine stand.

restoration work is allowing for many acres of additional ground to be covered.

Thanks to FSPW Volunteers John Harbuck, Shane Sater, and Carol Wilburn for their gracious donations of time and energy in helping to gather additional data this 2014 season.  We look forward to applying the data you provided to on-the-ground management actions in the coming seasons.

Stay Wild!

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FSPW Volunteer Crew lead with aspiring USFS Lichenologist.

 

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