Whitebark Pine Restoration in Wildfire Areas

This is a summary of the Whitebark Pine Restoration in Wildfire Areas that was originally published in 2013 in order to reach public and government attention towards the restoration of whitebark pine populations .

Introduction to the topic

Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) populations are decreasing on a large scale due to the aftermath of mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonous ponderosae), blister rust (Cronartium ribicola), fire suppression and global climate change. That’s why several ways to protect the endangered species have been diagnosed.

Among the options of controlled burning for habitat restoration, silviculture techniques and the protection of trees from the mountain beetle, planting rust resistant seedlings was chosen in this project. In order to restore burned sites of the region, the members of the Lillooet Tribal Council collected seeds from healthy whitebark trees in 2010. The project, which was co-funded by the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program and the Aboriginal Funds for Species at Risk, concentrated on outreach with the public and industry, developing planting prescriptions, seedling planting, and building local seedling production capacity.

Background of the research project

In the years 2009 and 2010, an immense amount of whitebark pine in the Lillooet area was burnt because of landscape fires. However, the burnt areas created ideal competition free areas for new whitebark generations. As high elevation burns reestablish slowly, pro-active planting was required for re-stocking burnt habitat.

The project was established to address the potential dangers to the species and to enhance local consciousness in order to incorporate students and resource managers in the process of restoration in the St’at’imc Traditional Area.

Methods and Results of the Study

The research project was divided into the following three main sections:

The intention was to build local comprehension for the relevance of whitebark pine and the urgency of its conservation.  This issue was tackled by promoting outreach materials, mostly by holding presentations and offering field based activities with youth and community groups, as well as conducting conversations with Elders to analyze Traditional Ecological Knowledge.

About 90 students (four elementary classes and one high school class) were reached and playfully informed about the project and how they could take part in it. Additionally, 40 resource managers from the Lillooet area were approached through awareness presentations and letters to demonstrate potential solutions for the issue.

Further, the actual restoration and conservation area of the damaged terrain had to be defined. To determine potentially conserved habitats, GIS was used by comparing areas where whitebark pine could be found and regions that had to undergo fires. In addition to this, aspects such as accessibility for seedling planting, presence of deceased whitebark pine, and whether the planting would bother the timber harvesting landbase or the ecological suitability in the potential area were also considered.

The areas, which were taken into consideration of conservation included LaRochelle, Elizabeth Mine Road, Yalakom Valley and the Yalakom Provincial Park.

After the examination on suitability of mentioned areas, the only habitat that was rated as applicable was the Yalakom Provincial Park. It could offer a proper access to the territory, whereas the others couldn’t meet the expectations, as the areas often belonged to timber harvesting landbase or had poor aspects concerning the other criteria.

In order to get seedlings, cones of ten healthy whitebark pines were collected on Mount Poison and volunteers from the Split Rock Nursery took care of the yet-to-be trees. Two of the nursery employees attended a two day workshop at Yellow Print Propagation in order to get a deeper knowledge of seedling handling, germination, and seedling production. Furthermore, a whitebark pine seedling production description was developed in order to assure the evolution of future whitebark pine projects.

In total, 500 seedlings were planted by spreading small clusters and single plants over 1.55ha in Yalakom Provincial Park in late september 2014. The locations of certain seedlings were mapped on GPS.


The project resulted, due to its methods and results and the additional funding by AFSAR (Aboriginal Fund for Species at Risk), in the development of a distinct management document, which will be used by the St’at’imc First Nation in order to manage the restoration of the whitebark pine in their Traditional Territory. The incorporation of First Nations was crucial because they possess a deep understanding of nature.

The idea of integrating youth in environmental projects in order to get a promising outreach was a success, yet teachers and educators need to get a deeper knowledge about the topic so that their audience might be better informed in future projects. The high school teacher was willing to keep up on the project, however, its time management didn’t fit into the time table.

The identification and confirmation of potential planting areas turned out to be more demanding than previously supposed, yet plantings in certain areas of timber harvesting landbase may be possible in the future.
Instead of the proposed number of 2,000 seedlings, only 500 were planted, which originates in the seedling production, whereas the contributors didn’t have the knowledge on how to properly germinate whitebark pine. Many of the seedlings didn’t survive the nursery process.

The seedling production can, assuming that future projects build up on the developments of this one, become more reliable and efficient, depending on the amount of collected seeds during the mast years. Once the procedures have evolved, sufficient planning in advance will ensure more successful projects in the future, as well as attract potential funders.

All in all, upcoming whitebark pine restoration in the region may be immensely improved concerning volunteer support, seedling availability and the decision on how to locate the restoration.

Suggested action/future direction

Regarding the public outreach and the development of a guaranteed volunteer stream, high school students may participate over their four years, whereas they can follow the seedling process from beginning to end, which ensures motivation and the feeling of accomplishment on their side and a steady outcome of seedlings per year.

The cone collection can be improved by focussing the process on the mast years. As previously mentioned, the seedling production is the key for future success of the restoration, since planning and preparation enhance the efficiency. Survival of planted seedlings can be quantified by monitoring area at three and five year periods.

Respecting the search for areas to be restored, it is crucial to connect with local timber companies and to enlarge the access area, whereas  2h hikes to the locality will be tolerated in the future, as the species’ natural habitat often lies in remote places.

Conclusion of Research

The “Whitebark Pine Restoration in Wildlife Areas” project aimed at getting an outreach to the public, while students and local communities were educated and incorporated. Concerning this point, expectations have been met.

Seeds had to be collected and germinated, seedlings were grown in a local plant nursery and planted into suitable habitat. This chain of actions can be upgraded, since big developments were made by establishing planting prescriptions.

  • Source Whitebark Pine Restoration in Wildfire Areas Project No. 13.W.SON.02 Prepared by Keefer Ecological Services Ltd., for Lillooet Tribal Council. Available at : https://a100.gov.bc.ca/pub/acat/documents/r43747/13WSON02_White_1411409758249_1406712679.pdf [Accessed 03/2021].