Bulkley Valley Research Centre - Science in the Public Interest

Restoring Endangered Whitebark Pine Ecosystems of West Central British Columbia

Project Reference Number: 2011-13

Project Status: Complete

Led by: Sybille Haeussler, PhD, UNBC, Smithers

Alana Clason, UNBC PhD student; Nikolas Thom, BVRC Intern; Kerrith McKay, Smithers; Rosamund Pojar, Bulkley Valley Naturalists.

Funder: Mountain Equipment Coop; Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation; TD Friends of the Environment; Yellow Point Propagation Ltd

Whitebark pine seedlings grown at UNBC ready for outplanting

Other Research Partners:  Office of the Wet’suwet’en, University of Northern BC, Canadian Forest Service, BC Parks, BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Woodmere Nursery, Bulkley Valley Naturalists.

Thanks to everyone who made generous donations to the project including:  BC Floatplane Association and BC Parks for the flight to Kidprice Lake, Skeena River Steel Inc. for cage cutting, and Summit Reforestation for planting shovels.

Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) is a small 5-needle pine tree that grows at higher elevations in the mountains of western Canada, reaching its northwest range limit near Smithers, BC.  The health of this tree has been declining for decades due the spread of an introduced disease (white pine blister rust) but mortality rates skyrocketed recently due to the mountain pine beetle epidemic. COSEWIC declared whitebark pine as endangered in Canada in 2010.  Loss of this iconic tree species has serious consequences for regional biodiversity because whitebark pine is a keystone species in subalpine forests, producing large, energy-rich seeds (pine nuts) that support many different animals in the subalpine foodweb, including grizzly and black bears, Clark’s Nutcrackers, squirrels and other small mammals.

Bear Scat

Bears love eating whitebark pine seeds! (S. McLane photo)

The Bulkley Valley Research Centre has studied whitebark pine ecosystems in west central BC since 2007 and has documented alarming rates of mortality and lack of regeneration across the region (Project 2009-06). Our research indicated that a restoration program for this species was needed immediately in our region. This project brings together many local and regional community partners to:

  1. conduct seed collections in west central BC including regional parks and protected areas with an emphasis on parent trees displaying resistance to white pine blister rust.
  2. grow whitebark seedlings in local nurseries for the first time using local seed, where possible with the intent of producing seedlings with resistance to white pine blister rust.
  3. establish restoration trials in recent wildfires and stands with heavy mountain pine beetle mortality, or both, in areas with high bear habitat potential. Seedlings will be established from nursery seedlings and stratified seed. Trials within BC Parks will use locally collected seeds only, whereas those outside the parks will include testing of non-local seed sources for climate change adaptation purposes.  The trials will use putatively rust-resistant seed stock as it becomes available.  Seedling survival and growth will be monitored.
  4. test planting and stand tending techniques to improve whitebark pine tree growth and stand health including microsite selection, manual/mechanical removal of competing vegetation and (eventually) prescribed fire.
  5. gather data on the behaviour of Clark’s Nutcracker and other wildlife species in the whitebark pine ecosystem of west central BC to determine their role in seed dispersal, competitive interactions and how these affect and may be affected by restoration practices. 
  6. communicate information about endangered whitebark pine ecosystems to local communities and encourage local participation in restoration activities.
  7. partner with the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation (Canada and US chapters) to share new information about whitebark pine and its restoration across the full range of this important tree species.


Cone Cages

Cone cages on Hudson Bay Mtn protect unripe seeds from birds and squirrels

Proposals and Letters of Support:


To see all the work that the Bulkley Valley Research Centre has undertaken with respect to whitebark pine, please view our Whitebark Pine website at http://bvcentre.ca/whitebark.

Related Reports

Publication Date Report Title Authors
2014 Forest response to cumulative disturbance and stress: Two decades of change in whitebark pine ecosystems of west-central British Columbia Alana Clason, Ellen Macdonald, Sybille Haeussler
July 2014 Restoration of Endangered Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis) in the Wetzin'Kwa Community Forest and Environs Sybille Haeussler, Bulkley Valley Research Centre
Spring/Summer 2014 Whitebark Restoration Advances in Northern BC Sybille Haeussler & Alana Clason, Bulkley Valley Research Centre
Spring/Summer 2014 Nutcrackers and Whitebark Cone Production in Northwestern B.C. Kerrith McKay, McKay Environmental Consulting Ltd.; Jodie Krakowski, Bulkley Valley Research Centre
June 2013 Endangered Whitebark Pine Ecosystems in the Mountains of West Central BC Sybille Haeussler, PhD RPF; Kerrith McKay, MSc
April 2013 Restoring Whitebark Pine Ecosystems to Enhance Subalpine Bear Habitat - Year Two Sybille Haeussler
April 2012 Restoring Whitebark Pine Ecosystems to Enhance Subalpine Bear Habitat - Year One Sybille Haeussler