Sugar Pine forest rehabilitation begins at Tahoe

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INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. (KOLO) -- Areas of the Lake Tahoe basin devastated by drought and beetles could see new life in a few years with new native trees.

A slingshot and a beanbag are key tools in the replanting process.

"I am going to shoot a line over the limb and attach it and just basically whip the cones off," said Tom Burt, who was trying to collect pine cones from Sugar Pine trees Friday.

Sugar Pines have been devastated by drought and the Mountain Pine Beetle in the last few years.

"In Tahoe in the last year we have seen tree mortality double from 35,000 to over 72,000 trees," said Amy Berry, CEO of Tahoe Fund.

Particularly hard hit is Tahoe’s north end. Huge areas of forest have seen die-offs.

"Right now you can go out in the forest and you can see three or four Sugar Pines right next to each other and three are dead and one is living and we don't know why," said Berry.

Tahoe Fund is partnering with U.C. Davis researchers to try to understand the reasons behind the die-off.

"We believe that some of the trees here are locally adapted to the environment," said Camille Jensen, a research biologist with U.C. Davis.

They're not resistant to the Mountain Pine Beetle, but possibly resistant to drought. The effects of drought can often make a tree more susceptible to the Mountain Pine Beetle.

"What we are hoping to do is restore these populations," said Jensen.

That is why pine cones are being collected. Researchers are trying to get a hundred seeds from a hundred different trees. In a few years those seeds will yield 10,000 seedlings that will be planted in the Tahoe basin.

"We don't think we are going to see results overnight; we know that we are in it for the long term," said Berry.

Those seedlings will take decades to reforest Tahoe, but they'll be there for the next generation.