Sugar Pine Foundation partners with new science adviser |

Sugar Pine Foundation partners with new science adviser

Dr. Joan Dudney studied blister rust at UC Berkeley.
Provided / Sugar Pine Foundation

Sugar Pine Foundation has partnered with a local scientist to fight blister rust and bark beetles in the Sierra Nevada with a focus at Lake Tahoe.

SPF is a nonprofit started in 2004 to help restore white pines and eradicate blister rust from the Sierra, especially the Tahoe Basin.

Dr. Joan Dudney joined SPF as it’s newest science adviser in August. She graduated with her Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley in May 2019 and spent her time in school studying white pine blister rust, bark beetles and the effects of drought on white pines.

Blister rust is an incurable fungal pathogen that kills 90% of the white pines it infects. According to Dudney, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has tried to have white pines designated as an endangered species.

“An important trend that Joan’s studies have identified is the increased incidence of blister rust in western white pines,” said Tressa Gibbard, development coordinator for SPF. “Given this trend, we want to stay ahead of the curve and ramp up our western white pine cone collections and resistance testing in order to be better and sooner prepared to undertake restoration in Tahoe, and beyond.”

Part of SPF’s work includes finding resistant pines and growing resistant seedlings they can plant to help stop the spread of the disease.

“Despite our name, the Sugar Pine Foundation is actually dedicated to saving all white pine species affected by the fungus,” Gibbard said.

Another area of Dudney’s research is on the bark beetle.

According to Dudney, the bark beetle is a native species and is important to forest health. During normal precipitation years, the beetle will feed on weaker white pines. However, with California’s drought that ended this year, the bark beetle “has grown exponentially,” leading to them eating healthy trees.

Dudney emphasizes the importance of saving the white pine.

“White pines are really a cool species because they’re very diverse,” Dudney said.

The sugar pine, specifically, is so large, it provides habitat for many creatures. White pines have nutrient-rich pine nuts that a lot of animals depend on.

Most importantly, Dudney said, because they survive at high elevations, they help retain snowpacks longer.

Part of Dudney’s role as science adviser will be to connect SPF with the scientific and governmental agencies she’s worked with.

“Joan has worked with nearly all of these threatened species in cooperation with research and monitoring programs at UC Berkeley and UC Davis, the Forest Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey,” said Gibbard. “Thus, Joan is well-positioned to help us expand our collaborative potential as we strive to find ways to best help save the sugar pine and other beautiful white pines of the Sierra Nevada. The way we see it, the more all of the parties — federal agencies, scientists and our little non profit — involved in studying and battling white pine blister rust know about each other’s’ work and ways to collaborate, the better.”

SPF is hoping to expand their reach into Inyo National Forest.

“Knowing that our work and priorities is rooted in and guided by scientific studies confers validity to our organization’s mission,” Gibbard said. “We hope and expect that citing Joan’s work will lend credibility and urgency to our requests to partner with new forests like the Inyo.”

In Tahoe, Dudney said she will help SPF monitor the trees they’ve already planted, something they haven’t had the capacity to do in the past.

SPF is always looking for more help.

The foundation has released their fall planting schedule shortly and urge people to help them plant trees.

For more informaton, visit

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