Diggings logo

WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on local landscape and natural history of Pend Oreille County, Washington. A partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department has allowed us to expand this program through EPA funding to include more classes, a newsletter and this website.

Ghost White Pines

Adapted from: "Return of the Giants--Restoring White Pine Ecosystems by Breeding and Aggressive Planting of Blister Rust-Resistant White Pines." Idaho Forest Wildlife and Range Experiment Station publication CN# 927, University of Idaho, 2001

Go back in your imagination one hundred years or more to the moist, mid-elevation forests of the Pend Oreille watershed, and stand among the white pine giants. Look way, way up. On good sites, these trees towered over 150 feet tall and 36 inches in diameter. (In 1992, the record-holding western white pine in Idaho stood 229 feet tall and 78.8 inches in diameter.) These majestic trees often lived to 350 years, but could reach the ripe old ages of 400 and even 500 years. They were the foundation of the most productive forests in the region, providing habitat for a highly diverse mixture of organisms, from the smallest microbes to lichens, higher plants, and animals. Early lumbermen called the species "King Pine" and built giant empires upon it.

By the late 1960s, our white pine forests in the Inland Northwest were nearly gone, decimated by a combination of white pine blister rust disease, high-grading, overcutting, mountain pine beetle attack, and exclusion of stand-replacing fires. White pine blister rust, accidentally introduced from Europe through planting of infected seedlings, did the greatest damage. The disease reached Inland Northwest forests by 1923, and by the 1940s, millions of western white pine were dying. Today only 5 to 10 percent of the original five million acres of white pine forest in the Inland Northwest have a significant white pine component. The mixed fir stands that have replaced the white pine forests are much less productive. Loss of this ecosystem affects all who depended on these huge trees--from wildlife and fish, to the timber industry.

Most foresters think that aggressive management is needed to restore white pine ecosystems within a few human generations. Depending on natural selection alone would be slow and uncertain. Plant-breeding programs started in the 1950s are now providing rust-resistant seedlings. Widespread planting of these is a major component of the program.

But it is also important to recognize the scattered wild white pine survivors, because some may have natural resistance. These trees will help maintain a broad genetic base and contribute a source of seed for long-term natural selection. Private landowners who want to encourage natural white pine regeneration should create openings around these healthy seed trees so that their seedlings receive adequate sunlight to outgrow their competitors. These trees may also be candidates for cone collecting--and competitors for Biggest Tree contests

<----previous article...Diggings Feb 2002...next article---->