2015 Helena National Forest Whitebark Pine Regeneration and Release Monitoring

General Project Information

Project Title: Helena National Forest Whitebark Pine Regeneration and Release Monitoring

Project Dates: 2015

Year project implementation started:  

How many more years is this project expected to continue, if any?

We plan to monitor the plots established this year again in 2020. We also plan to use this same protocol in FY16 to monitor the success of two scheduled 50 acre WBP plantings, one on the Helena and one on the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Project Contact: (Please provide complete information for primary contact(s), e.g., name, position, phone number, email, agency name, unit/sub-unit)

Riley Dopler, Culturist, 2880 Skyway Dr. Helena MT, 59602, rdopler@fs.fed.us

Matthew Voigt, Forestry Technician, 2880 Skyway Dr. Helena, MT 59602; mvoigt@fs.fed.us

Location (Land management agency or ownership and name of geographic area(s) where project was implemented. This information should be specific enough to identify a general project location on a map but not specific enough to compromise the project.)

Lincoln RD (D4) of the Helena National Forest Service (Granite Butte)

Cooperators: (List cooperating agencies and sub-units, other companies/organizations, and individuals as needed.)


Project Funding

Funding Sources (amount FHP/amount other):

Forest Health Protection funding                 $5,241

Other funding                                            $4,512

Total                                                         $9,753

Did Whitebark Restoration funding get used or obligated? (If not, please explain.)

Yes, WBP Restoration funding was used to pay for seasonal time to establish and collect initial data on monitoring plots.


Project Details

Scope and/or Size of Project or Treated Area: (Include a short description of the project or treatment area if helpful in understanding the scope of the project.)

Number of Acres or Other Units Treated, Monitored, or Surveyed: 60 acres

Specific location of project or treated area(s): (If desired, add more specific project location information here, e.g., UTMs, Lat-long, specific landmark. Otherwise, indicate if more information is available by request.)

Objective(s) (from original request):

To develop a protocol and establish permanent monitoring plots to assess condition and abundance of whitebark pine (WBP) regeneration and residual tree vigor following disturbance on three sites across the Helena National Forest.

Planting: (Please answer the following questions if the project includes plantings or cone collections.)

Number of seedlings planted (list by location if applicable): N/A

Was the seed source screened for resistance? (If other, explain.)

Were Plus trees used?


Through development and implementation of this protocol we have established 60 permanent monitoring plots in three different stands located within the Granite Butte Monitoring area. We have collected baseline data within each of these plots that provides us with data on density, size, height, age, growth rate, growth form and insect/disease presence of WBP trees encountered in each plot location. Each plot also captured data for the species, size, and density of other conifers encountered. Basic plot location, slope, aspect, vegetation and ground surface data was also collected for each one of our monitoring plots. Through the implementation of this protocol we learned a lot more about the existing stand conditions within each of our monitoring areas. While thorough data analysis is required to truly determine what we have learned by completing this project, getting this baseline data this field season has set the stage for the true desired outcome of this project which is to monitor these plots over time. Initiating this WBP monitoring program is an important first step in furthering our understanding of this sensitive species and its reaction to disturbance / restoration projects on the Forest level and throughout its range. The acquisition of this data and the subsequent monitoring will provide us very in depth information about the regeneration processes of WBP on the Helena National Forest. This data will allow us to compare and hopefully validate the management techniques currently being used to benefit the species. Through time, this valuable data will also help us to determine future management techniques necessary in these stands to maintain and enhance the population of WBP throughout the monitoring area.

Project Status (Is the project complete? If not, what remains to be accomplished and when?:

The development of a WBP monitoring protocol and implementation of this protocol was completed this year. WBP monitoring plots were established in the Granite Butte monitoring area. Since we did not receive the full amount of funding requested from FHP, we decided to focus our efforts on the Granite Butte monitoring area and did not establish monitoring plots in Unit 42 of the Cabin Gulch Vegetation Project as we had proposed initially. 60 monitoring plots were installed in the Granite Butte Monitoring area, 20 in the planted unit, 20 in the regeneration harvest, and 20 in a control stand located between the planted and regeneration harvest areas that has not undergone any treatment activities. The installation of these plots and baseline data collection was the goal for this field season. At this point in time we have not had a chance to complete data analysis or entry of data into any corporate databases. Data entry and analysis will occur over this winter by employees in the silviculture shop. Once analysis is complete we will send out a final report of findings to accompany this report.

Will outcome meet objectives?

The outcome of this year’s project did meet the objective of developing a protocol and establishing permanent monitoring plots to assess condition and abundance of whitebark pine (WBP) regeneration and residual tree vigor following disturbance on three sites across the Helena National Forest.


Project Follow-Up

Are there plans for monitoring? (If not, please explain.)

The Forest is committed to the ongoing monitoring and maintenance of these plots through time to hopefully better understand individual tree health, stand composition and condition, and determine if the restoration planting and regeneration harvest have accomplished the desired goals of WBP restoration and enhancement. At this point we plan to resurvey all of these plots in the field season of 2020 to collect the next series of data. When compared to the baseline data acquired this year, the data collected in 2020 will ultimately paint the picture of what is occurring with these trees and within the stands and provide us insight that we have never had on the Forest due to lack of permanently monumented and re-duplicable plots. We also plan to use this same protocol this next year (FY16) to monitor the success of two scheduled 50 acre WBP plantings, one on the Helena and one on the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Changes Needed or Problems Encountered:

Throughout the various stages of this project, from developing the protocol to implementation, there have been various difficulties that we have had to overcome. While developing the protocol, we researched several other WBP monitoring protocols that have been published, or are in the process of being developed, throughout the Region and throughout the nation where concerned parties have felt the need to monitor WBP populations. Our focus was to try and incorporate individual aspects of these protocols to produce a protocol that allowed us to acquire the data we desire. This required a lot of research of available literature and some preliminary field visits to Granite Butte prior to implementing the protocol to determine the needs and feasibility of this data collection. Since there were 60 plots to install, we needed to make sure that the plot size was the right size, and the data needs were not extraneous in order to make field crews as efficient as possible while capturing all of the data that we truly needed.

After developing a protocol we found to be sufficient, we then had to design the survey. In the proposal for this project we had planned to lay a systematic balanced grid across the units to determine plot locations. While attempting to develop this grid on GIS I found that the shapes of the different polygons did not allow for a spatially balanced grid of survey points at a frequency of one per acre. To overcome this I consulted several on Forest GIS personnel to assist me in using a random plot generator to determine these plot locations. After using several different random plot generators, each with their own flaws, we finally settled on the random plot sequence that we used.

Once the protocol and survey locations were developed and field crews hit the ground, they instantly reported back to us with questions and concerns about putting it into practice. They first determined that the metal U-shaped plot stakes we provided were not very visible and would be difficult to relocate. They remedied this by using both the metal stake and a larger, more visible wooden stake to monument the center of the plot. They also reported that plots were taking a lot longer than expected and the individual tree monumentation was difficult and time consuming. We determined that individual tree tagging was the only way that we can effectively monitor the health and vigor of each WBP tree in the survey through time and that they would have to continue this to achieve the desired results of this survey. Also, individual tree monumentation with the associated horizontal distance and azimuth would give us the ability to relocate these plots in the future if the plot stakes disappear. Upon entering the regeneration harvest stand, field crew production slowed down even more due to the heavy abundance of trees found on the 1/50th acre plot that needed to be measured or tallied. One plot had 22 WBP trees on the plot that required individual measurement and tagging in addition to 347 other conifers that needed to be accurately tallied in the size classes. We did not foresee any of these plots being quite that intense prior to implementation! In the end field crews of two to five personnel completed plot installation over a 7-day period starting on 9/30 and ending on 10/14.