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Project ID: 17-2-01-14

Year: 2017

Date Started: 10/01/2017

Ending Date:  09/30/2019

Title: Evaluating whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) resistance and resilience to fire and insect outbreaks in northwestern Montana

Project Proposal Abstract: Large scale deviations in historical fire regimes throughout the Western U.S. highlight the need to revise forest management policies and implement adaptive strategies to support resilient forest ecosystems. This requires objective assessment of current forest stand dynamics, including species composition and mortality patterns, as well as past disturbance histories and complex disturbance interactions. However, this is complicated in high-elevation whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) ecosystems of the northern Rocky Mountains that experience a range of disturbance conditions and where knowledge of complex disturbance synergisms is particularly lacking. Whitebark pine is an important keystone species in high-elevation montane environments, where it provides numerous ecosystem services for subalpine plant and animal assemblages. However, there is growing concern that whitebark pine will decline to the point where it no longer plays a significant role due to the cumulative pressures of fire exclusion, drought stress, increased competition from shade-tolerant species, insect-related mortality, and white pine blister rust. The primary objective of this research is to better understand feedbacks and interactions between whitebark stand dynamics, fire, and mountain pine beetle outbreaks. I propose to evaluate response of whitebark pine to multiple disturbance stressors by examining characteristics of growth (basal area increment) and defense (resin duct properties) of living versus dead whitebark pine trees as well as across a range of fire-regimes. We ultimately look to develop predictive mortality models that will be of use to land managers and research professionals engaged in whitebark pine restoration efforts. This research will inform fire policy and management of whitebark pine restoration by broadening our understanding of factors influencing whitebark pine resistance and resilience to rapidly changing conditions.

Principal Investigator: David B. McWethy

Agency/Organization: Montana State University

Branch or Dept: Department of Earth Sciences

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Agreements Contact

Barbara B Bunge

Budget Contact

Barbara B Bunge


Richard G Everett

Salish Kootenai College

Department of Natural Resources


Sharon M. Hood

Forest Service

RMRS-Fire Sciences Lab-Missoula


Robert E. Keane

Forest Service

RMRS-Fire, Fuel & Smoke Science Program


David B. McWethy

Montana State University

Department of Earth Sciences


Gregory T. Pederson

USGS-Geological Survey

NOROCK-Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center

Student Investigator

Nickolas E. Zeibig-Kichas

Montana State University

Department of Earth Sciences

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network

Northern Rockies








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