Eastern White Pine: Estimating Survival and Timber Value

Lost data from the 1950s informs new yield models

Eastern white pine needles and the tassels that produce cones. Photo by Becca MacDonald, courtesy of Bugwood.org.
Eastern white pine needles and conelets. Photo by Becca MacDonald, courtesy of Bugwood.org.

Eastern white pine has grown in the eastern U.S. for millennia, but by the late 1800s, most of the old growth stands had been logged. When forestry in the U.S. emerged during the 1890s, white pine was one of the first species to be replanted, and was one of the main species Gifford Pinchot and Carl Schenck planted across 3,000 acres of the Biltmore Estate in western North Carolina in the early years of forestry.

During the 1930s, it was an important part of the Civilian Conservation Corps reforestation program. “White pine tolerates poor site conditions, has few insect and disease problems, and is economically valuable,” says U.S. Forest Service scientist Henry McNab. “It’s the most widely planted tree species for restoration of surface-mined lands in the coalfields region of eastern Kentucky and western Virginia.”

Even though it’s been so widely planted, until recently resource managers had relatively little information about white pine productivity. Information about how much timber a pure planted stand could be expected to yield was published in 1962, but the tables couldn’t be used unless the initial density of planted seedlings was known. In addition, back in the mid-1990s, Glen Smalley, formerly a Southern Research Station (SRS) scientist, discovered errors in one of the 1962 tables. Hoping to correct the problem, he asked McNab, a research forester at the SRS Upland Hardwood Ecology and Management unit for the original field data.

“We couldn’t find the data in our archives,” says McNab. “And we didn’t know where it was.” Without the data, there was no way to correct the error. But in reality the data wasn’t missing.

In 1981, former SRS researcher John Vimmerstedt, who had collected the field data in the early 1960s, had given it to Todd Hepp, then a biometrician and resource analyst with the Tennessee Valley Authority. Hepp reworked some of the models, and wrote a first draft of a manuscript. Although Hepp wasn’t able to pursue publication, he gave a copy of the manuscript to Smalley, who was researching white pine at an SRS field office in Sewanee, Tennessee.

“About 2 years ago, Glen Smalley found the long-forgotten manuscript in some of his old office papers and called me to see if we’d be interested in working on it further so it could be published,” says McNab. “Eventually, the many people involved in this project over the course of decades came together to collaborate on the update.” The paper was recently published in the journal Forest Science.

The scientists reanalyzed the original field data collected in 1957 and 1958 on plantations in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Because the data is more than 50 years old, the revised models do not show effects of climate change, and may be better suited for established plantations than young ones.  However, unlike the 1962 models, the new models will be easy to use on a computer. Managers can use the models to estimate white pine’s survival, basal area, and timber yield in relation to stand age and site quality.

After a long journey the field data are once again in the SRS archives and available for use in future studies.

Read the full text of the article.

For more information, email Henry McNab at hmcnab@fs.fed.us

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