Restoring Whitebark Pines: the Canary in the Coalmine for Hi-5 Declines

Hi-5s are trees that only grow at high elevations and have needles attached to branches in groups of five. There are six Hi-5 species in the western United States: whitebark pine, limber pine, southwestern white pine, foxtail pine, Great Basin bristlecone pine and Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine. All are in decline, some of them seriously. Whitebark pine is the most threatened among them.

Whitebark pine forests create critical plant and wildlife habitat and are instrumental to regional water supplies and recreational opportunities such as skiing. Unfortunately, whitebarks are rapidly vanishing, largely due to an introduced fungal disease, white pine blister rust, that has wiped out 90% of the pines in many northern forests.

American Forests has made saving the whitebark pine and all Hi-5s a priority. We are advocating for whitebark pine to be listed on the Endangered Species Act and working with partners such as the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation to develop a national restoration plan for the species and build support for an Endangered Species Act listing. The national restoration plan will serve as the basis for the recovery plan for the species upon listing.

Rebirth of Montana’s Flathead National Forest

In Montana’s 2.4-million-acre Flathead National Forest, 90% of all whitebark pines have died from blister rust fungus, insect outbreaks and wildfires — a rate of loss that matches the broader Crown of the Continent region, in which the Flathead sits. This massive loss means that the valuable habitat that whitebarks provide has all but vanished. With so few trees left, whitebark pine forests cannot regrow on their own.

American Forests has worked in Flathead since 2012 to replant blister rust-resistant whitebark pines in areas deforested by wildfires. This planting, along with collecting blister rust resistant pine seed, is the top restoration action needed and will anchor the recovery plan. Our efforts restore “founder stands” of whitebarks that will eventually reseed the landscape.

Reforesting the Whitebark Pines of Wyoming After Two Devastating Fires

Climate change and decades of misguided fire policy are combining to ignite severe wildfires in Wyoming’s Custer-Gallatin National Forest. The 2006 Derby Fire burned 207,000 acres in the forest and nearby private lands, while the 2012 Millie Fire burned 10,000 acres.

American Forests works in the Custer-Gallatin to reforest areas that aren’t naturally regrowing after these fires. American Forests’ planting projects use several native tree species, including whitebark pines that have been screened for resistance to blister rust fungus, as well as limber pines, which are also being decimated by blister rust. Since 2011, American Forests has reforested 3,394 acres with 1.86 million seedlings in Custer-Gallatin.