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Innovative control and management of white pine blister rust – the proactive strategy for mountaintop ecosystems

December, 2014

High elevation white pines and the headwater ecosystems they occupy are threatened by the non-native lethal disease white pine blister rust (WPBR). Many ecosystems in the west are already impacted yet the Southern Rockies are at the leading edge of the WPBR infection front; the landscape is susceptible to invasion and the continued spread of the pathogen over time is inevitable. Without intervention, we can expect high frequencies of pine mortality upon WBPR invasion that threaten the sustainability of the populations.    

Large, old bristlecone pine tree in Colorado.
Large, old bristlecone pine tree in Colorado.

RMRS and partners have developed a strategy to sustain healthy high elevation pine populations and mitigate the impact of invasion by the non-native pathogen that causes the lethal disease white pine blister rust (WPBR). This approach provides the science foundation for proactive management. The strategy (referred to as the Proactive Strategy) was introduced in 2004 and implementation by managers began in 2008. The Forest Service Proactive Strategy Team, with members from the Rocky Mountain Research Station, Forest Health Protection, and the National Forest System, was awarded the 2011 Forest Service Excellence in Invasive Species Innovative Control and Management Award. 

For more information on this topic, see the Science Spotlight Potential for maladaptation during active management of limber pine.

Key Findings

High elevation pine forests, under the threat of multiple stressors, serve as an excellent flagship to lead the paradigm shift away from crisis management and toward proactive management for ecosystem resilience as recently encouraged in the National Forest System Invasive Species Directive (12/5/11 Federal Register). This program of integrated research and strategic planning has positioned land managers of the Southern Rocky Mountains as leaders for this shift by providing timely information and technologies to make informed decisions to sustain mountaintop ecosystems.

Proactive management that mitigates impacts from invasive species before population resilience is impaired will sustain healthy ecosystems and the ecosystems service they provide. 

High elevation pine forests are valued by people for their aesthetics and longevity as well as their ecosystem services. These pines often define the very altitudinal limits of tree growth and help capture snow and mediate its melt at the headwaters of western Northern American watersheds. Their large seeds also serve as food for many animals that play important roles in the foodchain of the high mountain wildlife.


Keane II, Robert E. ; Tomback, D. F. ; Aubry, C. A. ; Bower, A. D. ; Campbell, E. M. ; Cripps, C. L. ; Jenkins, M. B. ; Mahalovich, M. F. ; Manning, M. ; McKinney, S. T. ; Murray, M. P. ; Perkins, D. L. ; Reinhart, D. P. ; Ryan, C. ; Schoettle, Anna W. ; Smith, C. M. , 2012
Bond, Craig A. ; Champ, Patricia A. ; Meldrum, James ; Schoettle, Anna W. , 2011
Schoettle, Anna W. ; Goodrich, B. A. ; Klutsch, J. G. ; Burns, K. S. ; Costello, S. ; Sniezko, R. A. , 2011
Burns, Kelly S. ; Schoettle, Anna W. ; Jacobi, William R. ; Mahalovich, Mary F. , 2008
Schoettle, Anna W. ; Sniezko, Richard A. ; Burns, Kelly S. ; Floyd, Freeman , 2007

Project Contact: 

Principal Investigators:
FS Region 2 - Forest Health Protection
U.S. Forest Service Region 6 - Dorena Genetic Resource Center
U.S. Forest Service Region 2
National Park Service
DOI Bureau of Land Management
Mountain Studies Institute
USDA ARS National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation
Colorado State University
Western State University of Colorado