National Park Service

Sierra Nevada Network (SIEN)

High-elevation Forest Monitoring

SIEN Inventory & Monitoring staff taking the diameter of a lodgepole pine in Kings Canyon National Park
SIEN Inventory & Monitoring staff taking the diameter of a lodgepole pine in Kings Canyon National Park. Photo by Linda Mutch.

High-elevation Forest Monitoring Briefs

High-elevation Forest Monitoring Reports

High-elevation Forest Monitoring Protocols

Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation (link)

For more information contact: Jonny Nesmith

Monitored at:

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Yosemite National Park

Note: This protocol was developed in collaboration with the Upper Columbia Basin and Klamath Networks, and has been implemented in parks in those networks as well.

 

Importance & Issues

Forest Monitoring brief

Forest monitoring in the Sierra Nevada Network parks resource brief
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Five-needle pines play important roles in western North American treeline forests. As they often are the dominant subalpine tree species, they can have a large influence on key ecosystem processes and community dynamics, such as regulating snowmelt and stream flow and providing habitat and food resources for birds and mammals. All western species of five-needle white pines and their associated ecosystems are threatened by an invasive pathogen (Cronartium ribicola, causes white pine blister rust), mountain pine beetle outbreaks, climatic warming, and drought stress. The threats of blister rust and mountain pine beetle coupled with projections of increased temperature and changes in type and timing of precipitation heighten the importance of documenting and mitigating anticipated declines in white pine communities.

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Focal Pine Species

Whitebark Pine

Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis), Kings Canyon National Park.
Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis), Charlotte Creek area, Kings Canyon National Park. NPS photo.

Whitebark pine occurs in the northern Rocky Mountains from central Alberta and British Columbia south through Montana and Idaho and into western Wyoming; and the Cascade and Coastal Ranges of central British Columbia south through the Cascades and Sierra Nevada, where it reaches its southern limit in central California near the Mt. Whitney vicinity. Whitebark pine occurs on both the west and the more arid east side of the Sierra Nevada crest in scattered treeline stands. Whitebark pine plays a role in initiating community development after fire, regulating snowmelt and stream flow, and preventing soil erosion. The seeds of whitebark pine provide an important food source for many seed-eating birds and mammals. Although Sierra Nevada populations are relatively healthy, severe declines in whitebark pine are occurring nearly range-wide, and the species is warranted for listing as a federally endangered species.

Foxtail Pine

Foxtail pine (Pinus balfouriana) in Sequoia National Park.
Foxtail pine (Pinus balfouriana) in Sequoia National Park. Photo by Anthony Caprio.

Foxtail pine is limited to high-elevation slopes, ridges, and peaks often in pure to nearly-pure, open stands with little other vegetation. Its distribution is much smaller than that of whitebark pine and limber pine. It is a California endemic confined to two discrete regions: the Klamath Mountains of northwestern California and the southern Sierra Nevada. Research on community and population dynamics is lacking for foxtail pine. However, given its position as the major subalpine and treeline tree in the southern Sierra Nevada, it likely provides important habitat and food resources for birds and mammals, and also influences snow melt and soil erosion. Foxtail pine trees in the southern Sierra Nevada provide multi-millennial tree-ring records that have been used to reconstruct long-term variations in climate.

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Monitoring Objectives & Approach

This monitoring project was developed collaboratively with the Upper Columbia Basin and Klamath Networks (Figure 1). This collaboration will provide comparable data on blister rust infection rates and damage, pine beetle outbreaks, and tree mortality across a large region.

Map of 5-needle pines in western North America. NPS Inventory & Monitoring networks and parks where this monitoring will occur are shown (KLMN = Klamath Network, SIEN = Sierra Nevada Network, and UCBN=Upper Columbia Basin Network).
Figure 1. Map of five-needle pines in western North America. NPS Inventory & Monitoring networks and parks where this monitoring will occur are shown. Networks include: KLMN = Klamath Network, SIEN = Sierra Nevada Network, and UCBN=Upper Columbia Basin Network. Parks where white pines are monitored are: CRLA=Crater Lake, LAVO-Lassen Volcanic, YOSE=Yosemite, SEKI=Sequoia & Kings Canyon, and CRMO=Craters of the Moon.

Randomly located permanent plots in white pine stands are monitored on a three-year rotation to obtain tree-and plot-level data. For white pine forest communities in Klamath, Sierra Nevada, and Upper Columbia Basin Network parks, we quantify status and trends in:

  • Tree species composition and structure
  • Tree species birth, death, and growth rates
  • Incidence of white pine blister rust and level of crown kill
  • Incidence of pine beetle and severity of tree damage
  • Incidence of dwarf mistletoe and severity of tree damage
  • Cone production of white pine species

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Management Applications

This project provides information on the condition of white pine forests and how pathogens and disease are affecting forest health. This information:

  • Helps park managers anticipate changes to high-elevation forest ecosystems
  • Allows early detection of population changes in white pines that may warrant management intervention
  • Contributes to the broader regional assessment of the status and trends in white pine species across western North America
  • Provides readily interpretable stories to share with the public regarding the impacts of a variety of human-related stressors on high-elevation forests

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Project Cooperators

Last Updated: December 30, 2016 Contact Webmaster