Organizer’s plan to successfully reforest Lake Tahoe with Sugar Pine

Published: Apr. 25, 2023 at 3:44 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Last August in South Lake Tahoe we followed The Sugar Pine Foundation’s Maria Mircheva as she collected seeds from the majestic sugar pine.

With a sling shot, she took down a couple cones and determined harvesting them would happen in about ten days. What we didn’t know is, this tree, and the cones and the seeds were not just selected randomly.

They were selected because of their genetic code.

“These seedlings are special because they are progeny of rust resistant trees,” says Mircheva.

Identifying such progeny seeds isn’t guess work.

It happens at the U.S Forest Service Placerville Nursery in Camino located in El Dorado County.

“This is the starting point for all of the California reforestation for all 18 national forests in California.,” says Wade Bell, Region 5 Nursery Program Manager.

At this nursery there is a greenhouse dedicated to identifying blister rust resistant sugar pines.

Inside it looks like any greenhouse helping make things grow. The seedlings come from sugar pine trees located in the Lake Tahoe area. They are grown, and then exposed to blister rust, a fungus which is 95% fatal.

“We expose them for the blister rust,” says Supervising Horticulturist John Gleason. “We infect them with blister rust and then we, based on the symptoms they show, we can tell whether they have the resistant gene or not.”

Gleason shows us which trees have the gene as they grow despite being exposed to blister rust. The other seedlings literally pale by comparison. They are brown and unhealthy.

It is the heartier sugar pines identified which will be planted on forest service land. Additionally, their originating seeds will continue to be harvested as well, as they too will survive against blister rust. Those seeds are kept in a freezer at five degrees below zero also located at the nursery. They will remain dormant until The Sugar Pine Foundation asks the nursery to start the growing process.

They are started in six-inch tall cylinders and grown in another greenhouse on the nursery grounds. Within about a year, Maria picks up the seedling and organizes various planting projects during the spring and summer months throughout Lake Tahoe.

“People really like taking part in tree plantings, creating life in the forest,” she says. “It is cute baby trees. And they grow and you can visit them. And see what they look like. Did they grow bigger than you? Yea they will be bigger than you in ten years.”