Bulkley Valley Research Centre - Science in the Public Interest

Restoring Northern Whitebark Pine Ecosystems in West-central BC - Shell Fueling Change

Project Reference Number: 2013-03

Project Status: Complete

Led by: Alana Clason, Adjunct Researcher, Bulkley Valley Research Centre

Sybille Haeussler, PhD, UNBC, Smithers

Funder: Shell Canada Limited


The goal of this project is to restore the endangered whitebark pine tree in the northwest portion of its range. Whitebark pine is a vital tree species in the high elevation forests of BC and AB, especially for wildlife such as grizzly bears, red squirrels and birds (Clark’s nutcracker) that thrive on its highly nutritious seeds (pine nuts). Restoration is necessary due to the massive decline in whitebark pine throughout its range from a combination of an exotic pest (white pine blister rust), recent outbreaks of mountain pine beetle, decades of fire management and the ongoing threat of climate change. The Bulkley Valley lies near the northwest edge of whitebark pine’s range thus populations here are critical for allowing the species to migrate northwards as the climate warms. In order to ensure that whitebark pine remains a fixture of mountain ecosystems and continues to support a healthy food-web, active restoration is necessary. Since 2007, the Bulkley Valley Research Centre has conducted research on the health of whitebark pine ecosystems in the local area. In 2011, with research showing significant declines in whitebark pine, the Bulkley Valley Research Centre began a restoration program. In the first two years of our program, we secured seed and began growing seedlings fuelled largely by the work of dedicated volunteers and several 1-year grants.

Specific goals are to:

  1. Plant seedlings that will be two years old in Spring 2014 in the local area, monitoring their health over time,
  2. Collect additional seeds from trees exhibiting some resistance to the invasive rust; and
  3. Grow the next round of seedlings at a local nursery.

These efforts will restore ‘ghost’ forests of dead whitebark pine as well as planting new habitats recently disturbed by fire or mountain pine beetle with seedlings that may have greater resistance to white pine blister rust.


Replanting whitebark pine trees will not only save this tree from extinction but will have wider positive impacts on the mountain ecosystems of northwest BC by maintaining healthy animal populations that depend on its nutritious seeds. A healthy food web often has a few keystone species that support a larger number of organisms survive. In high mountain forests of western North America, where whitebark pine is found, it is the key for healthy populations of small mammals, birds and even grizzly bears. Loss of whitebark pine from these forests may result in much larger impacts on these ecosystems than simply the loss of one species.

The long term expected environmental benefits of our restoration program include:

  1. increased abundance of live, healthy whitebark pine;
  2. wildlife habitat enhancement through greater whitebark pine seed abundance;
  3. engaged and informed volunteers and partners (including industry) working to conserve threatened high mountain environments;
  4. maintaining the potential for northward migration for whitebark pine from source populations at the northwestern edge of its range; and
  5. identification and propagation of white pine blister rust-resistant seedlings over time.

The restoration program initiated by the Bulkley Valley Research Centre has not only begun this process of restoration, but has established relationships with the local outdoor community and seedling producers, increasing awareness and thereby enhancing local capacity to restore the species in the northern portion of its range.

The success of our restoration program will be measured by: 

  1. total kilograms of viable seed collected;
  2. numbers of seedlings produced and planted;
  3. total hectares restored (i.e. planted with tree seedlings and maintained in a healthy condition
  4. number of rust-resistant parent trees identified and numbers of rust-resistant seedlings produced
  5. number of community volunteer participants; and (6) number of industrial partners engaged.

The Bulkley Valley Research Centre will use the Shell FuellingChange funds to collect seeds, grow and plant seedlings and engage with community partners.

Related Reports

Publication Date Report Title Authors
Spring/Summer 2014 Whitebark Restoration Advances in Northern BC Sybille Haeussler & Alana Clason, Bulkley Valley Research Centre