2015 FY15 Helena National Forest Operational Cone Collection

General Project Information

Project Title: FY15 Helena National Forest Operational Cone Collection

Project Dates: 2015

Year project implementation started: 2011

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

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, 406-495-3920

Matthew Voigt, Forestry Technician, 2880 Skyway Dr. Helena, MT 59602; mvoigt@fs.fed.us, 406-791-7752

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.)

Helena National Forest

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


Project Funding

Funding Sources (amount FHP/amount other incl. in-kind):

Forest Health Protection funding                   $11,000 (all transferred to support fire suppression)

Other funding                                               $  8,734

Total                                                            $19,734

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

Although this project was completed on the Forest, the WBP restoration funding received this year was not used or obligated. The Helena and Lewis and Clark National Forests have three tree climbing contractors that we use for our tree improvement climbing projects. At the time of cone caging our primary contractor had sufficient funds obligated to his company in order to complete the caging efforts. Between the caging of the cones and the de-caging, the unobligated restoration funding we received was transferred to fire suppression efforts in the Forest Service wide fire transfer. Since we did not obligate any additional funds to our primary contractor, he did not have sufficient funds to complete the de-caging effort. As a result we used another one of our contractors that had sufficient funding previously obligated to his company to complete the de-caging and successfully make the collection.


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:

20 trees in the Granite Butte area

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):

Complete operational cone collections to continue building a seed bank for whitebark pine (WBP) restoration planting throughout the species range on the Helena National Forest (HNF).

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.)

Yes. See explanation below.

Were Plus trees used? Three elite trees were collected from.


The result of this cone collection effort is a viable and genetically diverse seed lot that will be used for future restoration plantings on the Helena National Forest. All trees selected for this collection were collected from the Granite Butte area. That area has been determined to have a rust resistance percentage in the highest 25th percentile based on the 4th inspection rust resistance screening conducted by Dr. Mary Frances Mahalovich for the CLMT seed zone. There were 3 elite trees that were collected from in addition to 17 non-elite but phenotypically superior trees that had strong cone crops. Each tree was spaced a minimum of 200 feet apart and cones were only collected from the dominant and most heavily loaded stem when the trees grew in clusters. The seed is still being processed at the CDA nursery so we are currently unaware of how many pounds of seed this collection yielded or the germination rate.

We have been completing operational WBP collections on the Helena and Lewis and Clark National Forests since 2011 and have learned many valuable lessons that we continue to apply each year in successive collections. By virtue of searching out these 20 tree collections we have been able to identify several phenotypically superior and consistent cone bearing trees that were never identified during original plus tree surveys. Our field crews have become very good at locating trees with superior cone crops and making decisions on which are in fact the best 20 trees to climb throughout a rather expansive area. We have also become more familiar with areas that have the most rust resistant individuals based on testing and have learned to focus our efforts there to ultimately collect the best seed available.

The caging effort for this project was concurrent with our elite tree pollen collections on the Forest. This allowed us some flexibility with the contract crews working in the area because they were able to cage trees for this effort while waiting for pollen to ripen on individual elite trees. This allowed them to stay at the same work site and stay busy for the duration of three days to complete the 20-tree caging and get fully ripened pollen from the 4 elite trees in the area that required collection. This allowed both contract crews and government inspectors to maximize efficiencies and not have to access sites multiple times for different activities.

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

The project was completed and 3.5 bushels of WBP cones were successfully collected and transferred to the Coeur d’Alene nursery on 9/22/15.

Will outcome meet objectives?

The outcome of this collection will meet the project objective of establishing a viable and genetically diverse seedbank for future restoration plantings. We will be planting 10,000 WBP seedlings in a 50-acre area on the Helena NF in the fall of 2016 and have submitted the sowing request to have an additional 10,000 seedlings planted in the fall of 2017. The goal is to reforest at least 100 acres per year between the Helena and Lewis and Clark National Forests for a baseline WBP planting program with the possibility of increasing acreage as disturbances and timber harvests occur that could utilize WBP reforestation.


Project Follow-Up

Are there plans for monitoring or follow-up? (If not, please explain.)

Follow up will occur when the collected seed is sown and the seedlings are used to continue the restoration efforts on our Forest. Staked-row surveys, reforestation surveys, and additional monitoring protocols developed on the Forest (See HNF WBP Monitoring) will also be used to systematically observe the health and stocking level of the seedlings and help determine future management techniques to insure the viability of these trees through time.

Changes Needed or Problems Encountered:

From a budget stand point we learned the harsh lesson of what can happen to non-obligated funding during an extreme nationwide fire season. We were trying to logistically figure out how to obligate these funds amongst our tree climbing vendors to receive the most value and best quality service but we waited too long. Additionally as a result of our budgeting short fall, we were also unable to get contractors out to de-cage the trees immediately after they were ripe and experienced a slightly higher level of cone predation because of it. All of these lessons will reform how we conduct business in subsequent years in order to maximize the quality of service we are providing to both the resource and the tax payers.