Growth response of whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis Engelm) regeneration to thinning and prescribed burn treatments.
Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis Engelm.) forests play a prominent role throughout high-elevation ecosystems in the northern Rocky Mountains, however, they are vanishing from the high mountain landscape due to three factors: exotic white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola Fischer) invasions, mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins) outbreaks, and successional replacement by more shade-tolerant tree species historically controlled by wildfire. Land managers are attempting to restore whitebark pine communities using prescribed fire and silvicultural cuttings, but they are unsure if these techniques are effective. The objective of this study was to determine how whitebark pine regeneration responds to selective thinning and prescribed burn treatments. We studied changes in diameter growth after restoration treatments using ring width measurements obtained from 93 trees at four sites in Montana and Idaho that were treated in the late 1990s. Overall, the average annual radial growth rates of the trees in treated areas were greater than those of trees in control areas. Specifically, there were significant increases in the growth ratio (180%) in the two sites that were both thinned and later burned. Younger regeneration showed more response to the treatments than older regeneration. All sites showed high variability in post-treatment growth rates across individual trees, with greater variability for trees in treated areas than in trees from the control areas. Results suggest that whitebark pine regeneration can respond to thin and burn release treatments and that managers may see positive results in areas that are treated similarly.