Ecological effects and effectiveness of silvicultural restoration treatments in whitebark pine forests
Publication date: 1 December 2018
Source: Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 429
Author(s): Colin T. Maher, Cara R. Nelson, Andrew J. Larson, Anna Sala
Silvicultural thinning treatments to restore whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) are widely used in subalpine forests throughout the western United States (US) and Canada. The objectives of these treatments are to (1) improve the condition of whitebark pine at all ages, (2) to improve seedling recruitment processes, and (3) mitigate the damage caused by mountain pine beetle (MPB; Dendroctonus ponderosae) and white pine blister rust (WPBR; caused by the fungus Cronartium ribicola). However, there is some disagreement about the ecological basis of restoration and a paucity of information on the effects these activities – few treatments have been monitored to assess their success. We investigated the ecological effects of silvicultural restoration treatments in whitebark pine forests and evaluated their success by retrospectively sampling five treatment sites in the western US 6–10 years after implementation. We found strong evidence of growth release at a site previously characterized by closed-canopy stands. Growth responses in more open, park-like stands, however, were variable: we found weak growth increases at one site, weak growth decreases at another and no response at two other sites. At the site with strong growth increases, trees with previous damage from WPBR infection had growth increases similar to uninfected trees. We found low rates of whitebark pine seedling recruitment overall, and no increase in whitebark pine recruitment associated with treatments at any site. However, at one site, treated stands had higher regeneration of non-target species than did untreated stands. Post-treatment mortality (mostly from the late 2000s MPB outbreak) was significantly lower in the treated stand at the closed-canopy site; at the other sites, there was no difference in mortality between treated and untreated stands. The treatments had little detectable effect on short-term growth-climate relationships, although our analyses revealed that whitebark pine growth at our sites was more temperature limited than water limited. While some management goals were achieved, many were not, and there were some unintended consequences. Our results call for a closer examination of the ecological basis of silvicultural restoration treatments in whitebark pine and an expanded use of adaptive management.
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