Whitebark Pine Habitat On Track For Restoration

whtiebark pine

Over the last two years, the Forest Service and a team of citizen scientists led by Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness collected data identifying the locations and condition of whitebark pine trees in the headwaters of Lightning Creek.

The National Forest Foundation provided support for this work through our Treasured Landscapes, Unforgettable Experiences conservation effort. With the help of the data, the Idaho Panhandle National Forest is now preparing to conduct prescribed burning and thinning on 3,500 acres in the upper drainage to benefit whitebark pine.

Burning will be done mainly with helicopters, though there will likely be some hand ignition in some places. A history of fire suppression between the 1930s and the late 1980s, plus the additional stress of blister rust disease, has diminished the whitebark pine population. The project hopes to mimic once-natural fire to restore healthy conditions for the abundance of whitebark pine.

The Idaho Panhandle National Forest hosted a community meeting in mid-January in the town of Clark Fork, located at the mouth of the Lightning Creek watershed. At the meeting, residents asked the Forest Service to provide notice of when burning will occur, and asked about impacts on recreational trail use. Generally people have expressed support for the project.

The decline of whitebark pine has warranted its candidacy for listing as a threatened species with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Whitebark pine is regarded as a keystone or “foundation” species for its value in promoting biodiversity.

It grows at high elevations and is an important food source for Clark’s Nutcrackers, red squirrels, and black and grizzly bears. A Clark's Nutcracker can hide about 30,000 to 100,000 seeds each year in small, widely scattered caches, far more than they need to eat. Nutcrackers retrieve these seed caches during times of food scarcity and to feed their young. Cache sites are often where new growth and survival of seedlings occurs, contributing to forest regeneration. Red squirrels also feed on and collect pine seeds in middens, both bringing the grizzly and black bears their food from the tree-tops and concentrating it in easily-accessible caches.

Besides its habitat value, whitebark pine’s preference for the harsh, windy ridges enables these “dwarf forests” to accumulate and hold snow, resulting in higher snow packs and delayed run off. Slowing the spring melt plays an important ecological function for fish habitat in the creek far below and can moderate flooding events.

For more information about our Treasured Landscapes campaign efforts on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, click here.


California Assessment of Wood Biomass and Markets

Assessment of wood biomass and markets? What the what? The title of this project sure is a mouthful but an important project to restore our National Forests. Fundamentally the project asks the question how can we better utilize wood from small diameter trees being thinned in California. To back up a step, thinning and prescribed fire are applied to California’s National Forests to decrease the threat of mega fires.

Inyo National Forest
Photo by jocookfisher

In the past two years multiple fires burned hundreds of thousands of acres in the Sierra and Cascades alone: 98,000 acres on the King Fire (Eldorado National Forest), 257,000 acres on the Rim Fire (Stanislaus National Forest) and 134,000 acres on the Happy Camp Complex (Klamath National Forest). Many of these fires burned out of control for months because the forest had not had fire in many years, creating hazardous fuel conditions. Coupled with drought and windy weather, mega fires threatened water supplies, wildlife and communities.

Rim Fire
Photo by Mike McMillan - USFS

To correct this problem forest treatments are implemented in a way that creates gaps for species “dining room” habitat but keeps dense forest cover for “bedroom” habitat. In areas where listed species such as spotted owl and fisher require dense canopy and old growth conditions, forests are not treated. These areas are still threatened by and do burn in large wildfires, making the treatment of adjacent forests that much more important. Treatments can be done by hand, machine and with prescribed fire. Recent studies show that controlled burns may be the only way to treat some areas due to rugged terrain.

What is done with all of the wood after hand and machine thinning? Some trees are sent to mills but smaller diameter trees and slash (tree branches, needles) sometimes burns in place, at a tremendous loss of carbon and energy. Nearby biomass plants use the wood to produce heat and power. Combined heat and power plants are particularly valuable in rural communities where energy can be expensive and wood supplies plentiful.

Woody biomass
Photo courtesy of Oregon Department of Forestry

With new technology air pollution issues have greatly decreased, but permitting and total cost can be prohibitive. It’s important to note that mega fires create immense amounts of pollution, sometimes on the order of millions of cars operating annually on highways. Wood can also be utilized for fence posts or poles or used to strengthen other materials.

The biomass assessment will examine which technologies are most ready to expand in California markets to take advantage of these surplus wood supplies and help provide income and/or jobs to rural communities in the process. The hope is to spur the restoration of Sierra forests while providing income and opportunities for local communities. If done in a way that benefits humans, species and communities, all will contribute to a healthy ecosystem more resilient to future climate change.


New Study Shows Importance of Washington’s National Forests for the Economy

We know that biking, hiking, skiing, climbing and trail running are great activities for our physical and spiritual health – but a new study shows these activities are also good for the Pacific Northwest’s economic health!

Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Photo by Keri Sprenger

Investing in PNW National Forests and other public lands is a smart financial move, illustrates the Economic Analysis of Outdoor Recreation in Washington State, prepared by Earth Economics for the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office. The first comprehensive analysis of Washington’s outdoor recreation economy, the study shows outdoor recreation to be one of the cornerstones of the state's fiscal health, providing approximately 200,000 jobs and contributing $21.6 billion dollars in economic benefit.

The analysis shows the importance of National Forests to Washington, which generated $535,494 in economic benefit in 2014, more than any other federal lands in Washington. The study also demonstrates how important outdoor recreation is to rural counties, transferring economic benefits from urban centers to communities bordering on popular outdoor recreation destinations.

Olympic National Forest
Photo courtesy of Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation

As the majority of outdoor recreation opportunities are on publicly owned lands like National Forests, the study helps make the case for supporting and investing in keeping them healthy and making sure the public recreation infrastructure is maintained and improved. Read more about the study here.

Support your National Forests here.


Top Eleven #Instagreat Moments on the White River National Forest

Forest Service volunteer Priscilla Williams features some of the spectacular locations on the White River National Forest, home to the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.

Attention millennials, here is the blog you have been waiting for, a guide to the most #instagreat locations on the White River National Forest. Prepare to dazzle your followers with historic, scenic, breathtaking and just plain awesome locations.

You will be sure to gain a lot of “outdoor cred” with this list of must have photo ops and have a few incredible experiences along the way. The White River National Forest is all yours to discover, explore and capture on Instagram.

The FIS Alpine World Ski Championships

Care to snap a selfie with a world champion of downhill ski racing? You can do that on the White River National Forest in February. The event is free and the #grams are priceless.

World Cup Event
Photo courtesy of Beaver Creek Resort


Mount Sopris in the Elk Mountains

Located near Carbondale Colorado, Mount Sopris stands majestically as a centerpiece of the Elk Mountain Range. The elevation of Mount Sopris is just 496 feet shy of 13,000 feet. What a beauty!

Mount Sopris
Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service


The Top of Imperial Chair

Rising to 12,840 feet the Imperial Express is the highest chairlift in North America. Don’t forget your oxygen tank and seriously warm clothes. 

Imperial Chair
Photo by Jack Affleck courtesy of Breckenridge Resort


The Crystal River Valley 

Everyone loves pictures of animals, so amp up the cute factor by taking your furry friend on a fishing adventure up the Crystal River ; make sure you stop for a photo op in this scenic and historic river valley. In the fall, the colors are worth an ogle or two.

Crystal River Valley
Photo by Connor Coleman


Mount of the Holy Cross at 14,005 feet

Illicit “ohhs and ahhs” from your followers with this picture of you being extreme after summiting a Colorado 14eener. At 14,005 feet Mount of the Holy Cross is seriously playing it big and it’s all yours to summit!(Please make sure you have some experience in summiting peaks over 14,000 feet before attempting this dousie.)

Mount of the Holy Cross
Photo by Priscilla Williams


Bubble Lake in the Gore Range 

For the truly adventurous and backcountry savvy, we recommend this beautiful turquoise glacial lake in the Gore Range as a key photo op. Don’t forget to pack it in pack it out because this is a pristine wilderness!

Bubble Lake
Photo by Priscilla Williams


Piney Lake in the Eagles Nest Wilderness

This is the perfect place to get a candid pic of a moose while shooting a #selfie with a fantastic backdrop of Mount Powell and Knee Knocker Pass. We encourage long-distance pictures of moose, but please do not go in for a close-up.

Piney Lake
Photo by Kate Jerman


Windows Deck at Vail Resorts 

Stop for lunch and a photo op after a few runs on the White River Forest. That gnarly peak in the background is Mount of the Holy Cross, a photo-worthy backdrop. This one will get you points among the locals. #peaksonpeaksonpeaks

Windows Deck
Photo by Priscillia Williams


The Maroon Bells

We had to include this gem on our list. This is a postcard or holiday card just waiting to happen with you smack-dab in the middle of it. Your friends from the East Coast will be jealous. This is the most photographed mountain range in Colorado and it’s calling your name, feel free to do many cliché photo poses here with friends and family.

Maroon Bells


Camp Hale

Impress your savant friends with clever and strikingly beautiful historical and intellectual pic of Camp Hale. The area is known for being a training site for the 10th Mountain Division ski troops of WWII with ties to the skiing industry in the U.S. The National Forest Foundation has selected Camp Hale as a Treasured Landscapes restoration site . The NFF has worked with citizens, organizations and local leaders to create a shared vision for this historically and ecologically significant place. 

Camp Hale
Photo by Steven C. DeWitt, Jr.


Trappers Lake in the Flat Tops Wilderness 

Known as the birthplace of wilderness, Trappers Lake holds a sense of place to all of us. The jaw-dropping setting also gives you goose-bumps and melts your nature-loving heart simultaneously. #wilderness

Flat Tops Wilderness