Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
FIA Project Y091160

    Quantifying the effects of silvicultural techniques, wildfire and forest stand attributes on black huckleberry abundance and productivity
Project lead: Munro, Robin (Robin Munro)
Contributing Authors: Bryan, Bonnie; Keefer, Michael E.
Subject: Forest Investment Account (FIA), British Columbia
Series: Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
Huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.) are a valuable non-timber forest product (NTFP). Black huckleberries (Vaccinium membranaceum)are believed to be the most important huckleberry species in BC and its distribution amongst the broadest (Hauessler et al. 1990). Serious concerns have been raised, however, as to whether current land management practices will maintain a sustainable berry supply (Gayton 2000, Gagn et al. 2004, Richards and Alexander 2006). Fire suppression, current forestry practices (e.g. mechanical site preparation) and an increasing global demand for huckleberries as a nutraceutical mall all contribute to a reduction in berry producing shrubs (Burton 1998; Tom Hobby pers. com. 2006).
Huckleberries also have a long history of human consumption by First Nations and recreational and commercial harvesters (Gottesfeld 1994, Turner 1997, Boyd 1999, Keefer & McCoy 1999, Hamilton 2000, Richards and Alexander 2006). Recent surveys have shown that many First Nations across BC use this resource as an important source of food and income (Hamilton et al. 2003). This impact is intensified by an active commercial and recreational berry harvest in BCs interior.
Huckleberries are also vital for wildlife including bears, birds, and small rodents. It is particularly important for interior grizzly bear populations where this fruit dominates the fall diet and is considered a critical fall food (Rode and Robbins 2000, McLellan and Hovey 1995). Grizzly bears, in the Flathead area of southeastern BC, are known to gain over a kilogram per day eating berries prior to hibernating (McLellan pers. comm. 2006). Current land management practices coupled with intense human competition may lead to shortages of this resource, which could ultimately threaten grizzly populations.
Ministry of Forest operational staff and First Nations groups have expressed the need for more specific information on management practices that affect berry productivity. Current knowledge of black huckleberry biology and management in BC is limited and huckleberry response to common forest management practices has remained largely unstudied.
This research will quantify the effects that site conditions, wildfires, and silviculture regimes have on the huckleberry plant abundance and berry productivity in the East Kootenay area of BC. The Flathead and Lamb Creek drainages are ideal areas for this study as they are representative of many areas where black huckleberries grow and there is a heavy reliance on this plant species by humans (First Nations and recreational berry pickers) and grizzly bears. Together, these areas provide a mosaic of landscape conditions and an exceptional opportunity for huckleberry research. The Flathead drainage experienced several high elevation fires in the 1920s and 1930s and also underwent significant harvesting as a result of the mountain pine beetle in the 1970s. The Lamb Creek area experienced a wildfire in 2003, which burned close to 15,000 ha (Keefer pers. comm.). Both areas have a mix of young and old cutblocks. Together, the Flathead and Lamb Creek, also encompass several biogeoclimatic (BEC) zones, including Interior Cedar Hemlock (ICH), Montane Spruce (MS), Englemann Spruce and Sub-alpine Fire (ESSF), and Alpine Tundra (AT).
This study area is also significant because the Ministry of Environment is planning a high elevation prescribed burn in the Flathead drainage for the fall of 2008, in an attempt to improve grizzly bear habitat in the area (Teske pers comm.). This prescribed burn is unique, in that, it will target an all ready existing open older huckleberry patch that has had increasingly diminished berry yields over the last ten years. Because the area designated for burning overlaps with our sampling area, we hope to collaborate with this study by establishing some of our permanent plots in the prescribed burn area. This will provide a rare opportunity to obtain pre- and post-treatment data on this type of management prescription.
Our study is also linked to a long-term grizzly bear research study that is currently on-going in the Flathead area. We hope to eventually explore the link of huckleberry productivity and fecundity rates of grizzly bears.
Cutblocks, unharvested forest stands, and burns will be stratified by BEC zones, disturbance type (wildfire vs forestry), age since disturbance and silvicultural treatments. Using permanent plots, huckleberry productivity will be monitored across representative strata for the next 3 years (2008-2011). Models describing plant abundance and fruit productivity will be developed from site conditions, silvicultural treatments, and terrain-related variables. Multiple years are required for such a study to help control for the natural variation in the quality of berry crops from year to year. Results will be extended to the Ktunaxa Nation and other First Nations, foresters, planners and wildlife managers through journal articles, research reports, extension notes, workshops, and direct consultations.
Ultimately this study will inform forest managers, wildlife managers, First Nations groups and other interested parties about the effects of forestry, natural disturbances, and site conditions on the productivity of black huckleberry. Estimates can be used to integrate with habitat supply models for important species, such as grizzly bears, and help predict the locations and years of best fruit production for human picking.
Related projects:  FSP_Y102160FSP_Y113160


Executive summary (75Kb)
CMI abstract - Changes in abundance and productivity of black huckleberry... (16Kb)
Newspaper article (Daily Townsman, Nov. 21, 2008, page 3) (0.3Mb)
Ecosystem Restoration Berry Presentation (Kelowna, Feb. 25, 2009) (4.1Mb)
2008 Data sheet for permanent huckleberry plot center point data (63Kb)
2008 Data sheet for permanent huckleberry plot stem data (68Kb)
Press release - Huckleberry production in the Kootenay's (Sept. 2008) (12Kb)
SISCO berry presentation, Apr. 7, 2009 (3.5Mb)
Article in Link: Study looks at huckleberry productivity (0.4Mb)

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Updated May 02, 2011 

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