2012 Mink Peak WBP Daylighting Phase 1: Mechanical

Project:  Mink Peak Whitebark Pine Daylighting- Phase I: Mechanical daylighting of whitebark pine

Attachments:   Lolo_Erickson_2012_Appendix

Agency/Forest or Park/District: Mink Peak, Superior Ranger District, Lolo National Forest, Montana

Project coordinator:  Bruce Erickson

Contact:  Bruce Erickson, Superior Ranger District, Lolo National Forest, PO Box 460, Superior, MT 59872, 406-822-3957           berickson@fs.fed.us


Robert Keane, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory

Source of funding /amount

FHP: $12,000

Supplemental funding: $13,000 from NFRR, SPFH and WFHF appropriations.

Dates of restoration efforts

August 2012


Implement daylighting, thinning, and prescribed burning treatments to enhance regeneration and survival of whitebark pine trees and modify and reduce fuel loading and arrangement.

The project involves clearing competing conifers away from whitebark pine saplings, young trees, and tree improvement  “plus” trees.  This cooperative project with RMRS includes various treatments to both provide resilient conditions for existing whitebark pine trees and encourage regeneration of whitebark pine.  RMRS will be evaluating the effects of these treatments on the vigor of the daylighted whitebark pine trees using diameter growth rings, which will serve as an indicator of (1) the potential for larger cone crops, (2) survival of trees from beetle and rust, and (3) tree survival over long time periods.  RMRS will also determine if the selected trees have the ability to release after treatment.  This is critically important because many stunted whitebark pine advanced regeneration are found in declining forests, and treatments to release these survivors may preclude the need for more expensive planting.

The project addresses site-specific local whitebark pine stand needs, is part of a larger plan for similar treatments in whitebark pine stands throughout the Cedar Creek watershed, and will provide answers for whitebark pine treatments occurring and proposed range-wide.

Acres/ha treated

27 acres total


The treatment area is divided into four treatments:

Daylight healthy whitebark pine saplings and young trees by clearing competing conifers from within 15 feet of each tree. Intent is to increase vigor by reducing competition and reduce mountain pine beetle hazard by altering the microclimate of the bole so trees have an improved likelihood of surviving to maturity and successfully contributing to regeneration of whitebark pine in the future.

Daylight and underburn healthy whitebark pine saplings and young trees by clearing competing conifers from within 15 feet of each tree and underburning to reduce fuel accumulations. Intent is to increase vigor by reducing competition, reduce mountain pine beetle hazard by altering the microclimate of the bole, and reduce wildfire hazard by reducing fuel loads so trees have an improved likelihood of surviving to maturity and successfully contributing to regeneration of whitebark pine in the future.

Underburn healthy whitebark pine saplings and young trees by hand with an emphasis on torching competing conifers and reducing surface fuels. Intent is to increase vigor, reduce mountain pine beetle hazard, and reduce wildfire hazard while creating suitable seed caching spots to encourage natural regeneration.

Control area where no treatments occur.

RMRS has already installed permanent monitoring plots and they have taken individual tree measurements. They plan to measure treatment effects directly post-treatment and every five years after treatment.

Planting? If so, source of seedlings? Resistance?  No


– 2010 September: Superior Ranger District (D7) personnel incorporated the project into an EIS, initiated RMRS involvement, developed silvicultural prescriptions – COMPLETED

– 2011 August: D7 personnel significantly improved the road accessing the project for safety.  RMRS install plots and take pre-treatment measurements – COMPLETED

– 2012 June: NEPA decision signed. – COMPLETED

– 2012 August: Phase I – D7 personnel used chainsaws to daylight the healthy whitebark pine in two treatment blocks. – COMPLETED

– 2012 September: Pruned 30 trees for bark beetle resistance in parallel test. – COMPLETED

  • Preparation took much longer than anticipated and involved many parties with different but overlapping thoughts on how to do the work.
  • Production was slow but speeded up when part of the crew was assigned to flag whitebark pine trees to daylight ahead of the sawyers.
  • Silviculturist and Fuels Specialist needed to be on site to address unforeseen complications such as competing conifers larger than the anticipated maximum diameter, phenotypic quality of whitebark trees to daylight, spot treatments of high slash accumulation, etc.
  • Overall slash accumulation was less than anticipated.
  • Daylighting this particular site resulted in conversion of lodgepole pine/mixed conifer with whitebark pine cover type to whitebark pine with mixed conifer cover type – a dramatic change that everyone involved was pleased with.
  • The daylighting treatment area was smaller than the proposal (27 vs 45 acres) due to the layout of the treatment blocks and subsequent traverse.  The treatment, however, was much more expensive than anticipated.  The funding received was just adequate to cover the sawyers. Layout, training, and supervision were donated from other appropriated funding sources.
  • Travel distance and time over low standard roads drove up the cost and lowered the efficiency more than anticipated even though we had previously invested in brushing and grading the road and the crew worked long days to compensate for the drive time.
  • Lop and scatter takes twice as long as just slashing, so project planning and design needs to seriously whether the additional cost is worth the marginal improved hazardous fuel reduction.

Monitoring since completion of the project

            Dates: Summer of 2013

Bob Keane had his crew doing post-daylighting measurements in June.  No other monitoring specific to the daylighting was done.

            Plans for future monitoring? Yes

The underburning for Keane’s test was not completed.  It is planned for fall of 2014.  Bob Keane’s crew will take post-burning measurements in Spring 2015, and follow-up measurements will take place every 5 years.

Will outcome meet goals?

 Yes. The goal of the daylighting study is to gather information on the results of daylighting on whitebark pine of various sizes and conditions.  That information is being gathered and will continue to be gathered for the next 20 years.

In the short term, a lodgepole pine stand has been converted to a whitebark pine stand with trees of all stages from seedlings to cone-producing trees and various levels of rust infection from none to topkill.  These whitebark pine trees will experience open-growing conditions for several decades instead of competing with other trees for light and other resources.

Future actions/follow up?

2014 September: Phase II – Superior Ranger District personnel will underburn two treatment blocks.

2015 RMRS will take post-treatment measurements

2020 RMRS will take 5-year post-treatment measurements

2025 RMRS will take 10-year post-treatment measurements

2030 RMRS will take final post-treatment measurements, do analysis, write report

Miscellaneous comments

We spent over an hour teaching the saw crew to identify whitebark pine including differentiating them from lodgepole pine and western white pine.  The crew was encouraged to start slowly and focus on the whitebark pine, but we still had a few instances where whitebark pine trees were misidentified and cut.  The solution was to have the crew leader and another person who knew whitebark work ahead of the crew flagging individual whitebark pine trees.  That caused production to speed up because the crew could instantly identify trees to daylight and nearby trees to fell slash away from.

Based on initial surveys, the maximum diameter of trees to cut was set at 7 inches dbh.  However, as we worked through the area we found larger trees that were influencing smaller whitebark pine trees.  In response to finding larger competing conifers we implemented girdling of the larger trees to provide daylighting of whitebark over time as the tree died and fell apart.  Ultimately we just focused on daylighting the whitebark and cut down trees of any size within the prescribed daylighting area.

Based on our observations of daylighting at different spacings on the Clearwater National Forest, we prescribed daylighting a 15-foot radius circle around the whitebark pine.  This site has whitebark pine varying from 4 feet tall to 50 feet tall, so the 15-foot radius circle appeared to be excessive for the small trees and of limited benefit for the large trees. In this stand, it appears the daylighting will benefit the sapling-sized whitebark pine trees for at least a few decades into the future until the lodgepole pine outside the daylight radius grow to again compete for resources with the whitebark pine.

In this stand, some areas up to one acre in size were converted to pure whitebark pine stands as a result of overlapping daylighting zones for individual whitebark pine trees. In other areas, whitebark pine was significantly increased as a proportion of stand stocking.

We discussed alternatives to daylighting a 15-foot radius around individual whitebark pine trees.

  • Daylighting a radius based on some proportion of the whitebark pine tree’s height.  It would be necessary to establish a minimum daylighting radius to ensure adequate release of and long term benefit for smaller trees.  This would be particularly useful in areas with low whitebark pine stocking.
  • Daylighting in two zones.  First daylighting a 15-foot radius around an individual whitebark pine tree, then slashing taller trees outside that radius that may affect the whitebark pine tree through shading on the east/south/west sides.  This would be particularly useful in providing a long term benefit when the whitebark pine are shorter than the surrounding conifers.

Neither of these alternatives were used in this stand because the high whitebark pine stocking resulted in overlapping daylighting zones as described earlier.