Restoration Trials

Since 2011, the Bulkley Valley Research Centre and its partners have established whitebark pine restoration plantings at 14 sites across north central BC, totaling approximately 35 ha. There have been four main types of trials:

  • plantings in recent wildfires (4 sites in 3 wildfires)
  • operational planting in forest cutblocks (2 sites)
  • assisted migration trials across an elevational gradient (4 sites on Hudson Bay Mtn, 2 sites on McBride Peak)
  • high elevation mine reclamation (2 sites)

We have also supplied seeds to the Province of BC and US Forest Service for inclusion in rust resistance breeding trials established in southern and central BC and the western US.

Restoration Plantings in Recent Wildfires

A series of recent wildfires (2004 – 2012) near Morice Lake, southwest of Houston, BC, have provided excellent opportunities to establish whitebark pine restoration trials in areas of high value grizzly and black bear habitat.  The 2004 Nanika wildfire and 2012 Atna Lake wildfires are not road accessible and are located within Provincial Parks. BC Parks’ policy requires the use of locally collected seeds for reforestation. The  2010 Gosnell wildfire is road accessible and, being located outside of a park, provided us with a good test area for a preliminary trial using non-local seed sources.

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Map of 3 recent wildfires and one older (1974) wildfire in whitebark pine habitat near Morice Lake, BC

Gosnell Wildfire

A 1300 ha wildfire burned in the Gosnell Creek watershed in August 2010. This valley has high value grizzly and black bear habitat due to abundant salmon, avalanche tracks, huckleberries, and ridgetop stands of whitebark pine. Drier sites within the burned area are suitable for whitebark pine restoration plantings.

View Google map of Gosnell site

We selected two contrasting sites in the Gosnell Valley for our first restoration trial in 2011:

  1. The Crystal Road site is a dry rocky ridge (ESSFmk/02a site type) that was severely burned by the wildfire.
  2. The Joshua Road site is a dry glaciofluvial outwash terrace (ESSFmk/02b site type) where the lodgepole pine overstory was killed by mountain pine beetle. The wildfire was spotty and of low severity at this site.
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Gosnell wildfire Crystal Road Site 2nd growing season 2012

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Joshua Road Site 2011

In June 2011 we planted 50 whitebark pine seedlings (mixed non-local seedlots grown at UNBC) and sowed seed caches (Mount Sidney Williams seedlot) at each site. We return to the site intermittently to measure the survival, growth and condition of the planted and seeded tree seedlings and to remove competing vegetation. We expect the seedlings on the severely burned Crystal Road site to grow faster due to full sunlight and nutrient release after the burn. One half of the planted seedlings received one cup of soil taken from beneath a mature whitebark pine tree growing nearby in order to inoculate the soil with appropriate mycorrhizal fungi. Laboratory research conducted by Hugues Massicotte and Linda Tackaberry at UNBC suggests that mycorrhizal inocula may improve the growth of young whitebark pine seedlings.

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UNBC seedlings uninoculated

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UNBC seedlings inoculated

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Kerrith flagging natural whitebark regeneration Joshua site

At the Joshua Road site we found dozens of naturally regenerated whitebark pine growing beneath the dead lodgepole pine. These trees apparently grew from Clark’s Nutcracker seed caches. We have flagged these seedlings and are following their progress to determine whether they are able to release and grow to maturity following death of the overstory lodgepole pine.  Most of these naturally regenerated seedlings are infected with white pine blister rust.

Five years after planting, the largest, healthiest seedlings were planted in a small burned clearcut. Seedlings planted beneath burned snags in a severely burned forest were intermediate in size. Seedlings planted beneath mountain pine-killed overstory trees in a lightly burned forest were smallest because they experienced minimal nutrient release from the fire and the most competition and shade from surrounding live and dead vegetation. Survival was excellent except in very shallow burned soils at the top of a south-facing rock outcrop where a few seedlings died from heat injury and drought in the first year. Some seedlings located at the base of snags (mainly germinants from direct seeding) were damaged by sloughing bark.

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Healthy seedling in burned clearcut 5 years after planting, Gosnell wildfire.

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5 yr old direct-seeded seedling growing through sloughing bark, Gosnell wildfire.

 

Nanika Wildfire

In 2004, a wildfire burned on the shoreline of Kidprice Lake adjacent to the Nanika River falls within what is now Nenikëkh/Nanika-Kidprice Provincial Park, co-managed by BC Parks and the Wet’suwet’en First Nation. The wildfire killed many large whitebark pine trees. Although Clark’s Nutcrackers are commonly seen at Kidprice Lake, a regeneration survey found only a few, tiny whitebark pine seedlings growing in the burned area. Lodgepole pine and subalpine fir regenerated well after the fire and are growing much more rapidly.

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Nanika Falls burn Kidprice Lake aerial view 2010

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Planting in the Nanika Falls wildfire 2017

The Bulkley Valley Research Centre has been working with BC Parks and the Office of the Wet’suwet’en to restore whitebark pine stands within the Nanika wildfire. Seedlings grown from seeds collected from a young stand on the shore of Kidprice Lake directly opposite the wildfire were planted on rocky outcrops within the wildfire in 2014 (340 seedlings) and 2017 (1500 seedlings). All of the parent trees from whom the seeds were collected were free of active white pine blister rust, and we are monitoring their offspring for evidence of blister rust resistance, both in the Nanika wildfire and in field and laboratory trials conducted in the US and in southern BC.

A brochure describing the restoration project is available here.

Atna Wildfire

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Atna wildfire Aug 2012 L Helkenberg Photo

The 2012 Atna wildfire burned an extensive area in Morice Lake Provincial Park including significant stands of whitebark pine.  The Bulkley Valley Research Centre worked with BC Parks and the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, who co-manage the park, and the BC Wildfire Service to identify suitable sites for restoration with apparently blister rust-resistant whitebark pine seedlings. Seedlings grown from seeds collected at Kidprice Lake (see Nanika wildfire above) were planted on a remote rocky ridge above Atna Bay by firefighters from the Burns Lake Unit Crew in 2014 (340 seedlings) and 2017 (3300 seedlings).

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Burns Lake Unit Crew member planting in the Atna wildfire.

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A splendid day in the Atna wildfire, Morice Lake Provincial Park.

Additional seeds will be collected from rust-free parent trees near Morice Lake to continue this restoration project.

Operational Planting in Forest Cutblocks

Forest licensees in the Skeena-Stikine and Nadina Forest Districts have agreed to include whitebark pine seedlings in operational reforestation of newly harvested cutblocks located within current and future whitebark pine habitat. This program is growing rapidly and is currently limited by a shortage of available seedlings.

Since 2012, the Wetzin’Kwa Community Forest near Smithers has collaborated with the Bulkley Valley Research Centre to include whitebark in its planting operations. In 2017, contract planters planted 1400 seedlings from local rust-resistant parent trees at a high elevation cutblock above the McDonell Lake Road. Pacific Inland Resources, a division of West Fraser Inc, planted its first 214 whitebark pine seedlings at a high elevation cutblock located north of Reiseter Creek.

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Chris Howard Treeplanting crew, Wetzin'Kwa Community Forest, June 2017.

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PIR West Fraser treeplanting crew, Reiseter Creek, May 2017.

BC Timber Sales purchased 7 kg of whitebark pine seeds from the Bulkley Valley Research Centre in 2013 and is growing seedlings in a southern BC nursery for outplanting at locations in its Babine Business Area, beginning in 2018. With additional seed collections in 2018, we expect to make registered seedlots available to CanFor, West Fraser, BCTS and other regional licensees for operational planting.

Read more about operational planting (here)

Assisted Migration Trials

Assisted tree migration is an approach to climate change adaptation for forest ecosystems that involves transplanting seedlings from warmer locations (“provenances”) to locations further north and higher in elevation to test how these trees will perform in a warming climate. The Bulkley Valley Research Centre and UNBC established an assisted migration trial for whitebark pine involving four interacting experimental factors:

  • mycorrhizal inoculation in the nursery using soils from 4 locations (subalpine Coast Range, alpine Coast Range, subalpine Rocky Mountains, alpine Rocky Mountains).
  • 5 seed sources (provenances) ranging from Washington state to northern BC.
  • 2 outplanting locations: Hudson Bay Mountain near Smithers, BC (“coastal” portion of whitebark pin range) and McBride Peak near McBride, BC (Rocky Mountains portion of range)
  • multiple outplanting elevations: 3 elevations on Hudson Bay Mountain, 2 elevations at McBride Peak

Wetzin’Kwa / Hudson Bay Mountain Assisted Migration Trial

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Wetzin'Kwa site overview

Since 2012 the Bulkley Valley Research Centre has been working with the Wetzkin’Kwa Community Forest Corporation to establish whitebark pine seedlings on the west side of Hudson Bay Mountain near Smithers. Our trial compares the growth of whitebark pine seedlings at 4 elevations in order to help understand how climate change may influence the future success of this tree in the Smithers area. Currently whitebark pine trees grow largest and produce the most cones at elevations around 1000 meter but these trees may be most vulnerable to stress under a warming climate.

  1. Low elevation site – at the Duthie West trailhead (1000 m elevation)
  2. Transitional site  ̶  on a rock outcrop near the lower end of the Piper Down mountain bike trail (1100 m elevation) just below Hudson Bay Mountain main ski lodge (1300 m elevation)
  3. Mid-elevation site  ̶   near the near the Pay Dirt mountain bike trail just below Hudson Bay Mountain main ski lodge (1300 m elevation).
  4. High elevation site – at timberline on the Hudson Bay Mountain Prairie (1600 m elevation).
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Wetzin'Kwa low elevation site Duthie West Fall 2012

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Wetzin'Kwa mid elevation site Piper Down June 2012

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Wetzin'Kwa high elevation site Hudson Bay Mountain Prarie Sept 2012

At the low, mid and high elevation sites, the Wetzin’Kwa planting crew helped us plant 90 four-year-old seedlings grown at UNBC. At the high elevation site, we also direct-seeded 31 caches with 5 seeds each. We will return once or twice per year to measure the survival, growth and performance of the planted trees and to remove competing vegetation.

The high elevation site has a climate station maintained by the BC Forest Service to study climate change and is located adjacent to an assisted migration seedling trial established in 2007 by Sierra Curtis-McClane, a graduate student in the UBC Centre for Forest Conservation Genetics. As the climate warms it will be informative to learn how well whitebark pine trees can grow in an alpine zone that was formerly too stressful for tree growth.

Survival of seedlings planted in 2012 has been excellent (~97%), but seedlings planted in 2014 at the transitional site suffered heavy mortality due to hot, dry weather.  To date it appears that seedlings planted at lower elevations grow most rapidly, but those planted just below timberline (1300 m) currently experience the least amount of climatic and biotic stress.

Read the 2014 establishment report and 2018 5-yr results from this study.

McBride Peak Assisted Migration Trial

In the McBride Community Forest located on McBride Peak, in the western Rocky Mountains, we established a second installation of the assisted migration trial in July 2013. The trial used the same 5 seedling provenances grown at UNBC in the same subalpine and alpine soils as at Hudson Bay Mountain, but the seedlings were 5 years old when planted and were planted at two elevations, a subalpine/timberline site at 1828 m and an alpine tundra site at 1925 m. Treeline elevations are at least 200 m higher in the Rocky Mountains than they are at comparable latitudes in the western mountains.

A video (Operation Whitebark) prepared by treeplanter Darren Rockcliffe documents the planting operation.

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McBride Peak subalpine timberline site, Sept 2013.

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Healthy seedling, McBride Peak, Sept 2017.

Fifth growing season results from McBride Peak were similar to those at Hudson Bay Mountain. Survival was excellent (95%), growth was very slow with few differences among provenances, and alpine seedlings were sturdier than those planted in the subalpine. But alpine seedlings had more needle loss from winter exposure. At McBride Peak, 5 seedlings had white pine blister rust, compared to only one at Hudson Bay Mountain.

High Elevation Mine Reclamation

The Bulkley Valley Research Centre has participated in two whitebark pine planting projects at mine sites in central BC.

Huckleberry Mine, Tahtsa Lake

In 2014 we supplied 500 whitebark pine seeds collected on Mount Sweeney to Huckleberry Mines for a reclamation trial located at their mine site adjacent to Tahtsa Lake. One year old seedlings grown at Tipi Mountain Native Plant nursery in Cranbrook, BC were planted by DWB Consulting Services on a south-facing dam face along with other native plants in mid-May, 2016. By September 2016 approximately 80% of the seedlings were dead. Other conifers planted at the same time did not experience the same levels of mortality. It appears that the combination of an extreme site (poor, drought-prone soils; exposed location; low elevation for whitebark pine), small seedlings, and perhaps the lengthy travel distance from the nursery contributed to poor success in this trial.

Mount Davidson

New Gold is proposing to develop its Blackwater Gold mining project on Mount Davidson, located 100 km south of Vanderhoof, BC. An isolated stand of whitebark pine was discovered within the proposed mine project area. The Bulkley Valley Research Centre has been working with the engineering firm AMEC and the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation of Canada to help restore the whitebark pine ecosystem on Mount Davidson. Whitebark pine seedlings were salvaged in summer 2012 from within the mine footprint and were planted at a nearby restoration site. In 2013, seeds were collected from blister rust-free parent trees on Mount Davidson and seedlings grown from these parent trees at Woodmere Nursery were outplanted at the restoration site in 2015.