Populations of whitebark pine have been declining for decades. Fire, insects, and a fungal disease called white pine blister rust have impacted this critical keystone species. As a result, Whitebark pine was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2022, after 11 years as a candidate for listing. This threatened listing confirms what foresters, biologists, and recreationists have observed for years – whitebark pine stands are shrinking.
Mortality of mature, cone-bearing whitebark pine stands on the Sawtooth National Forest was high during the mountain pine beetle outbreak of the 2000s. In recent years, red flagging, white pine blister rust cankers, and some whole tree mortalities continue to decimate whitebark pine stands.
The Sawtooth National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan directs the Forest to identify and prioritize areas for whitebark pine regeneration. In 2012, a NEPA decision memo was signed for planting whitebark pine in specified areas. Since then, the Forest Service has planted almost 20,000 whitebark pine seedlings across ten specified areas.
In 2023, crews will plant 3,000 seedlings and will focus efforts on high-elevation stands across the Sawtooth National Forest. The Sawtooth National Forest will also continue monitoring whitebark pine health and identify trees infected with blister rust or pine beetles.
Whitebark pine monitoring and planting in 2023 represents a continuation of efforts to conserve this keystone species in Idaho. The aim of these activities is twofold: to increase our understanding of the species and to increase its numbers across the landscape.