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The ecology and management of western white pine forests: A focus on plantations

March, 2015

Western white pine, due to the introduction of white pine blister rust and salvage, is a speck of what it once was in the moist forests in the West and is a major species of concern. Billions of dollars have been invested in this species since the 1910’s because of its high economic, social, and ecological value. For these reasons, for the last 100 years, forest managers and scientists have invested in white pine by genetically selecting white pine blister rust resistant trees followed by investment in developing western white pine management strategies to restore its abundance throughout the Northern Rocky Mountains, where it once dominated moist mixed-conifer forests. Our research goal is to continue this research legacy and provide scientific findings to inform forest managers on their 1) progress and 2) effectiveness at increasing and sustaining western white pine forests into the future.


We planned a multi-faceted approach focused on addressing the following questions to provide robust scientific information to evaluate management effectiveness and to provide a suite of management strategies to increase the abundance of western white pine.

  1. Can western white pine grow only in clearcuts? Managers assumed that only clearcuts or shelterwoods would favor western white pine success. This research provided information on a range of openings where the species could regenerate, establish, and grow providing managers a broad breadth of management alternatives for increasing species abundance.
  2. Where is the best place to invest in western white pine across the landscape? The research provided a landscape approach and strategy that identifies the landscape places where western white pine restoration is most likely to succeed.
  3. If funding or other constraints prevent the release of western white pine, are there other alternatives to favor its growth and development? The research evaluated crop tree release as an alternative tending method for sustaining the species when funding or other constraints prevent managers from releasing young western white pine (< 30 years of age).
  4. How resistant are western white pine plantations to wildfire? Scientists evaluated plantation resistance to fire after the 2015 wildfires burned through numerous established plantations on the Idaho Panhandle and Clearwater National Forests, to inform managers what biophysical and plantation characteristics made them resilient to fire.
  5. What other functional roles do western white pine contribute to moist mixed-conifer forests? More recently, scientists are quantifying understory plant species diversity to determine how western white pine influences other forest attributes.

Key Findings

The research has produced the following short-term results:

  • Identified opening size thresholds for western white pine establishment - competitive advantage and free-to-grow - which are being applied throughout the Northern Rocky Mountains in current management and post-fire salvage.
  • Developed the irregular selection silviculture systems (a series of management methods) to promote not only western white pine but other desired tree species which is currently being tested on Priest River and Deception Creek Experimental Forests.
  • Crop tree release is a viable method for releasing western white pine when other objectives require areas that contain a high density of trees to provide cover for mammals, such as the snowshoe hare, and costs less to implement. This paper is in review for the Journal of Forestry and includes management and policy implications.
  • Preliminary: There are biophysical locations that create conditions that are more resistant to fire including plantations on < 40 percent slope, on lower slopes closer to riparian areas, and in locations that tend to have deeper soils and thus more soil moisture.


Hines, Sarah ; Klopfenstein, Ned B. ; Richardson, Bryce A. ; Warwell, Marcus V. ; Kim, Mee-Sook , 2013
Jain, Terrie B. ; Graham, Russell T. ; Sandquist, Jonathan ; Butler, Matthew ; Brockus, Karen ; Frigard, Daniel ; Cobb, David ; Sup-Han, Han ; Halbrook, Jeff ; Denner, Robert ; Evans, Jeffrey S. , 2008
Graham, Russell T. ; Jain, Terrie B. ; Sandquist, Jonathan , 2007
Jain, Terrie B. ; Graham, Russell T. , 2004
Jain, Terrie B. ; Graham, Russell T. ; Morgan, Penelope , 2004
Graham, Russell T. ; Harvey, Alan E. ; Jurgensen, Martin F. ; Jain, Terrie B. ; Tonn, Jonalea R. ; Page-Dumroese, Deborah S. , 1994
Graham, Russell T. ; Tonn, Jonalea R. ; Jain, Terrie B. , 1994


The long-term research and management goal is to provide a short- and long-term view of increasing western white pine abundance, so that over time (decades to centuries), the moist mixed-conifer forests can evolve so they maintain their economic, social, and ecological value within uncertain future climate and society needs. This includes a state-of-knowledge synthesis of our long-term and current scientific contributions and knowledge on moist mixed-conifer forests and the management strategies that can insure future resilience of these valuable forests. 

This research has been presented in over 50 webinars, presentations at conferences, and demonstrations over the last 15 years. 

National Priority Research Areas: 
Climate Change; Watershed Management and Restoration
RMRS Science Program Areas: 
Forest and Woodland Ecosystems
Project Contact: 

Principal Investigators:
Allen Harvey - (Retired)
Charles Welner - (Deceased)
Raymond Hoff - (Deceased)
Albert Stage - (Deceased)
Irvene Haig - (Deceased)
Gerald Rehfeldt - (Retired)
Garel McDonald - (Retired)

Andrew Nelson - University of Idaho
Penelope Morgan - University of Idaho
Idaho Panhandle National Forests
Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forests

Research Staff:
Funding Contributors:
Rocky Mountain Research Station
Region 1 Resource Information Management (RIM) Board
University of Idaho