Consider Reviving the “King Pine”
Many private landowners are faced with the difficult decision of which tree species to plant on their property. No matter what your circumstance, planting western white pine could be a feasible option for your property. Dominant aspect, elevation, regional location, stand objectives/goals, to just mention a few all play a role when deciding which seedling species is most suitable for your site.
During the late 1800’s and up to 1965 white pine, commonly referred to as the “King Pine” served as the flagstaff forest product in the Inland Northwest. Early on, white pine was a critical economic resource and up until 1965 it dominated the timber industry. The current timber industry’s framework in the Inland Northwest is in part a result of the giant white pine of the 1900s. Between 1925 and 1934 the average annual white pine harvest was 430 million board feet in the Inland Northwest. In 1929, the Inland Northwest was producing 43% of the nation’s white pine lumber. A number of factors led to the downfall of white pine in the mid-1900’s. However, nothing compared to the devastating affect white pine blister rust had on white pine forests. By the 1940s, blister rust was an epidemic, leaving millions of white pine trees dead across the region and continuing to spread.
Occasionally in a highly infected white pine forest, an uninfected white pine tree was observed. A closer look at these survivor white pine trees and with nursery tests, it was concluded that some white pine trees had a natural resistance to blister rust. Later on seed orchards as the one in Sandpoint, Idaho produced blister rust resistant seed.
The first generation of rust resistant white pine was cloned to create a more resistant second generation. The second generation seeds were established in three white pine plantations, one in Moscow, ID which is actively managed by Northwest Management, Inc. Since the establishment of the second generation plantations a third generation has been developed (1986). The second and third generation stocks exhibit the same resistance to blister rust, about 66% resistance. These 66% blister rust resistant stocks are available from select nurseries for planting. Private, state and federal landowners successfully establish and manage western white pine plantations all across the Inland Northwest. As of 2010, federal WWP plantations totaled 170,000 acres; state and private plantations totaled 125,000 acres.
The few remaining massive white pines and their natural regeneration are presumed rust resistant due to years of natural selection. Industry and private landowners alike are encouraged to leave white pine whenever possible to encourage species diversity. So, why not play it safe and plant a conifer species with less risk involved? The long and short answer to this question is the unrivaled white pine growing potential and their environmental benefit. The historic white pine dominant stands have been replaced by Douglas-fir and grand fir, two species much more susceptible to forest diseases and insects. White pine trees survive 200-500 years, providing a viable seed source, shade for wildlife and fish habitat, and nesting habitat for birds. Mature white pine are resistant to wildfire and establish well in burned open areas. White pine does well with drought conditions. Documentation shows, yields for a 100 year old white pine forest have been recorded at 50,000 board feet per acre, with historic old growth stands reaching volumes in excess of 100,000 board feet per acre. From a forest product standpoint, white pine is light colored, clear, straight grained and easily milled.
There are three silvicultural treatments applied to white pine plantations which produce healthy vigorous trees: (1) establishment of blister rust resistant seedling stock, (2) prune established plantations when necessary, and (3) thin plantations to release sapling sized trees. White pine does best on sites with 28-60 inches of annual precipitation, with at least partial sunlight. Establishing a white pine plantation is not as simple as 1, 2 and 3. There are site specific and management requirements a forester could help with.
The massive white pine groves are a thing of the past, but with current blister rust resistant seed stocks and proper management practices, white pine can be revived in the Inland Northwest.