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A Once-Iconic Conifer May Make a Comeback

The US Forest Service plans to restore a rugged, scenic corner of far northeastern Idaho by re-introducing an imperiled tree which once carpeted that entire region. The roadless, steep area known as Lightning Creek near Clark Fork on the eastern shore of Lake Pend Oreille has been a candidate for restoration ever since ferocious floods devastated it in 2006.

As part of the project, the forest service plans to touch off controlled burns and to manually thin the forest next spring and summer on about 3,000 acres in the Lightning Creek drainage. Foresters hope that Whitebark pine seedlings planted in the newly cleared areas can thrive and lead to a revival of the species, which is listed as threatened.

Whitebark pines were once the defining species of the northern Rocky Mountains, but blister rust and pine bark beetles all but wiped out the trees in recent decades.

A few hardy specimens, which seemed to be immune to blister rust, were gathered, planted and studied at a forest service nursery in Coeur d' Alene. Seeds from those trees have been carefully gathered and nurtured on the hope they'll produce trees which can shrug off the fungus.

The Lightning Creek restoration project has been labeled a Treasured Landscape program, a collaboration between the forest service and the National Forest Foundation.

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