Whitebark pines are majestic trees with a whitish, often wind-curled trunk that grow up high in the Rocky and Sierra Mountains, in the Western US. They’re icons of Yellowstone National Park, where they provide high-calorie seeds for many animals, including grizzly bears that eat the seeds before hibernating. Some whitebark pines manage to live for a thousand years, but many of them are now dying.
Joane Elleouet writes more about Sitka in the latest issue of Branchlines –
It soon became evident, though, that climate change is outpacing this gradual approach, and in 2012 the ministry launched another program, dubbed “climate-based seed transfer,” which involves a total overhaul of the province’s approach to reforestation. Rather than determine where a seedling can be planted according to lines of latitude and longitude on a map, decisions will be made according to anticipated climates of the future. The climate-based approach to reforestation will be implemented starting in 2017.
As B.C. moves into uncharted territory in forest management, the whole province can be seen as a giant petri dish, with the provincial government directing the experiment. And we’ve only got one chance to get it right. Unlike a high-school genetics experiment, where students might observe successive generations of flowering plants over the course of a year, trees take anywhere from 50 to 100 years to reach maturity. If the trees we plant today prove unsuited to the climate of tomorrow, there’s no do-over.
When we picture scientists collecting data, we usually think of someone in a white coat mixing solutions in beakers or perhaps someone writing measurements on a clipboard in the middle of a seed orchard. But what happens after that data is collected and the papers are written?
Old Data, New Tricks on Research2Reality.
Aitken-ites in The Walrus talking whitebark pine and assisted migration.
[N]ear the end of McLane’s whitebark planting trip in BC, it started to snow. Parked in whiteout conditions on a mountaintop, with no views to admire, McLane pulled a fourth layer over her down coat, grabbed her fingerless gloves, and braced herself for the whipping wind. Each day, as the temperature dropped, her unplanted seedlings became less likely to make it through the winter, leaving them in as much danger as ever and us no wiser for it. Crawling through ankle-deep snow, McLane spent her days scraping out holes with a tent peg and pushing the sprouts into the frozen dirt with her bare, numb fingers. Then, as now, the experiments had to go on. “We’re in a race against time,” she said.