Scientist to lecture about pines threatened by rust
August 27, 2006
By PAUL FATTIG
Mail Tribune ASHLAND — If you’ve ever admired the regal whitebark pines on the rim of Crater Lake or other high-elevation pines, you may want to spend this evening with Diana Tomback.
The scientist, a professor of biology at the University of Colorado at Denver, is one of the nation’s leading experts on whitebark pine and the white pine blister rust which threatens them.
Tomback will be addressing the issue at 7 p.m. today in the Meese Room in Southern Oregon University’s Hannon Library. The lecture is free.
She is among the scientists gathering at the university for the conference “Whitebark Pine: A Pacific Coast Perspective” which begins today and continues through Thursday.
Tomback’s presentation is “Whitebark Pine Ecosystems: Their Ecological Importance and Future Outlook Why All the Fuss?”
The conference will be the first major opportunity for scientists to share and discuss information about whitebark pine and other five-needle pines, including how to restore stands decimated by the blister rust, explained Ellen Goheen, plant pathologist with the Southwest Oregon Forest Insect and Disease Service Center. The center is based in Central Point at a Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest nursery.
In addition to whitebark pine, sugar pine and western white pine also are susceptible to the blister rust, she explained. Fire suppression over the past century also has contributed to the decrease in high-elevation pine stands, scientists say.
“We have some beautiful stands of whitebark in the Cascades and down through into the Sierras,” she said. “It’s considered a keystone species because it’s the only conifer that grows in the highest elevation levels. It helps regulate snow melts, reduce soil erosion and is an important food source for wildlife.”
But whitebark pine and the other high-elevation pines that symbolize the West are being killed by the white pine blister rust, a disease that originated in Asia, she said.
Introduced to North America in 1910, it spread into Southern Oregon in the late 1920s and early ’30s, she said. Evidence of a tree dying from the exotic fungal disease includes cankers on stems and branch die back.
For the past half century, scientists have been working to increase populations of disease-resistant trees, she said.
“Growing resistant trees looks promising,” Goheen said. “But we have had to start from scratch to research and develop and germinate resistant trees. It’s a little more challenging to collect cones from whitebark pine than from other (lower-elevation) trees. We’re still in the early stages of research.”
Conference sponsors include the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Southern Oregon University, Crater Lake Natural History Association, Crater Lake Institute and the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation.
For more information about the conference, see www.fs.fed.us/r6/nr/fid/wbpine/index.shtml.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or at firstname.lastname@example.org