Work continues on Whitebark Pine rehabilitation 

Volunteers needed to collect cones, check seedlings

Work is continuing this weekend on a long-term project to save Whistler’s endangered Whitebark pine from a foreign species of fungus, the European white pine blister rust. A few more volunteers are needed on Saturday, Oct. 2, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., to help collect pine cones and to check on the progress of seedlings planted in past years.

Whitebark pine are typically found in the high alpine, clinging to the rock and thin soil. They provide food to alpine squirrels and birds, and have formed a symbiotic relationship with the Clark’s nutrcracker, providing food to the birds, which have specially adapted beaks, which in turn help to spread seeds.

Because of the rust, many trees are dying before they can reach maturity and produce cones.

Bob Brett of Snowline Ecological Consulting and the Whistler Naturalists, came up with a plan five years ago to start collecting cones from healthy trees, grow seedlings at a nursery, and plant the trees in the alpine areas.

As long as there are trees producing cones, and they can stay one step ahead of the rust, Brett says they can prevent the species from dying out in Whistler until a treatment can be found or the trees form their own natural resistance.

Wiping out the rust is impossible – it’s been tried before, but it spreads too quickly. After the Second World War, the U.S. government spent $400 million trying to eradicate the bush that carries the rust, but was unsuccessful. Now the only hope, says Brett, is to grow enough trees to ensure that there are enough survivors each year to continue producing cones. The trees that the cones were collected from could also be the key to the species developing an immunity to the rust, similar to a species of tree in Europe.

"Right now we have a bunch of seeds in the nursery, but we’re in kind of a window where we don’t have new seedlings to plant. This year we’ll gather some more cones and look over the seedlings we planted last year. Next year and every year after that we should have a couple of hundred seedlings to plant each year, as long as we keep collecting the cones," said Brett.

Most of the work has been done in the 7th Heaven area of Blackcomb Mountain with the support of Whistler-Blackcomb and backing of the W-B employees’ Environmental Fund.

If you’re interested in taking part in the project this year, contact Bob Brett at 604-932-8900. Two to three volunteers will be needed.

Come dressed to spend the day outside. Transportation will be provided.

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