Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe. Credit: The Tahoe Guy/Flic

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe. Credit: The Tahoe Guy/Flickr

Due to their location in the north-central Sierra Nevada, the forests of Lake Tahoe enjoy wet, cool winters and warm, dry summers. These conditions make for some of the most productive timber lands in the United States. Equally impressive are the various river basins that drain the land, supplying water for millions of people and thousands of acres of farmland. These important watersheds are impacted by the health of their surrounding forests, which are comprised of a number of different tree species. One such species, however, is severely threatened by a non-native, invasive fungus, which is why American Forests is helping restoration projects in the area.

Sugar pines once comprised a quarter of Lake Tahoe’s forests. These majestic trees are the world’s largest species of pine. They boast a uniquely beautiful shape and enormous cones, which are often more than 14 inches long and four to six inches in diameter. Today, however, sugar pines account for less than five percent of the area’s forest composition due to white pine blister rust.

Since 2011, American Forests has been working with the Sugar Pine Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to save Tahoe’s sugar pines. American Forests has helped the Sugar Pine Foundation plant 20,000 trees in California and Nevada state parks near Lake Tahoe.

Sugar pine cone.

Sugar pine cone. Credit: H Dragon/Flickr.

Although blister rust is incurable, roughly three to five percent of sugar pines possess a genetic resistance to the fungus. Every year, the Sugar Pine Foundation collects cones from sugar pines that are known to be resistant to blister rust and uses their seeds to grow seedlings at the CalForest Nursery in Etna, Calif. These young seedlings are then planted throughout the Tahoe Basin, where they will eventually produce their own seeds and spread throughout the forest. Bringing back the sugar pine will not only contribute to watershed health, but will also decrease fire risk and provide wildlife habitat and other scenic and recreation benefits.

Involving the local community in forest stewardship is central to this American Forests Global ReLeaf project. Every year, the Sugar Pine Foundation hosts more than 500 students on outdoor field trips and plantings, giving them the opportunity to learn about forest health and plant thousands of trees in and around the Tahoe Basin. This project also educates and involves hundreds of other community members through its community plantings.

For more Global ReLeaf projects, visit www.americanforests.org/global-releaf.