By: Bob Brett
Whistler’s claim to fame is skiing. Situated near the south end of BC’s Coast Mountains, Whistler has the greatest vertical drop and skiable area of North America’s resorts. Whistler will host the alpine and nordic events for the 2010 Olympics which will no doubt increase its international profile.
The TV cameras covering the Olympics will no doubt pan across vistas which include whitebark pines, but it’s unlikely any commentators will be focussing on the trees.
Whistler is on the western edge of whitebark pine’s range and very close to one of the entry points for white pine blister rust to North America (Vancouver in 1910).
In 2000, the Whistler Naturalists began its Whitebark Pine Conservation Project. Since then it has collected seeds, planted and monitored. Volunteer-based.
Very grass roots. Funding and volunteer support from Community Foundation of Whistler and, more recently, employees of the local ski hill through the Whistler-Blackcomb Employee Environmental Fund.
The goals are to retain whitebark pine as a treeline species in Whistler. Also to use it as an educational tool since it combines so many aspects.
Scope of restoration: eventually both mountains. Seed source a problem.
What has been accomplished so far.
How the work is financed including the extent of donated time and materials.
Plans for the future.
Any insight you might offer other groups in other areas that might want to develop a comparable restoration program.
Which brings us to this update for the Whistler Naturalists’ Whitebark Pine Conservation Project. This volunteer project started with the collection of seeds in 2000 and has been supported by the Community Foundation of Whistler and the Whistler-Blackcomb Employee Environmental Fund.
So far we’ve planted seedlings on Seventh Heaven (in 2002 and 2003), collected more seeds to grow at a nursery, and monitored the survival and growth of the planted seedlings.
This year’s monitoring happened on another perfect fall day. I was joined by two graduate students from UBC Geography: Carmen Wong and Jed Cochran. (Carmen just started a Ph.D. studying whitebark pine and will hopefully include Whistler among her research sites.)
The good news is that the seedlings are doing well, though in an understated way. Mortality seems to have stabilized since only 19 of the original 400 seedlings died in the past year, compared to 61 in the previous year. Approximately three-quarters of all the seedlings we planted in 2002 and 2003 are still alive.
The tallest seedling is now only 17 centimetres tall, and that’s after 2 years in a nursery and 3 years out on Seventh Heaven. Average height for the 5 year-old seedlings is less than 10 cm. With growth rates like these, you don’t need to worry about skiing into one of our whitebark pines for quite a long time.