Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation (WPEF)

We are a science-based non-profit dedicated to counteracting the decline of whitebark pine and enhancing knowledge about the value of its ecosystems.


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Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation
PO Box 17943
Missoula, Montana 59808

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2024 Research Grant Recipients

The mission of the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation (WPEF) is to “promote the conservation of whitebark pine and other high-elevation five needle white pine ecosystems through education, restoration, management, and research.” In support of this mission, the WPEF offers two research grants of $1000 each to an undergraduate or graduate student (MS or PhD) conducting research and writing a thesis on whitebark pine. For 2024, we partnered with John Van Gundy to offer a third $1000 student scholarship for anyone conducting research on whitebark pine. We are pleased to announce that Ashley Miller and Ashley Sacco were chosen as this year’s student research grant recipients and Enzo Martelli Moya was chosen as the recipient of the John Van Gundy student scholarship.


Woman hugging a tree.

Ashley Miller

Ashley Miller is a second-year PhD candidate at Colorado State University in Dr. Jane Stewart’s Tree Pathology lab. She is studying the aerial presence and transmission of white pine blister rust (WPBR) inoculum (fungal spores) across five western states to characterize how the local vegetation and environment impact aerial dispersal. The WPEF grant will support Ashley in expanding local vegetation surveys to further quantify disease levels on alternate host plants and assess the seasonal phenology of the disease. Apart from this project, Ashley is also carrying out a transcriptomics study to assess how climate change conditions may alter molecular communication between host and pathogen in the WPBR pathosystem during the early infection process. This project will help uncover potential shifts in host susceptibility under climate change.

Ashley’s fascination with the intricate interactions among the host, pathogen, and environment, particularly in the context of forest trees, fuels her motivation. She plans to graduate in Spring 2026 and wants to work in forest tree health research or land management, ideally with the US Forest Service. Outside of her work, Ashley enjoys snowboarding, hiking, live music, arts and crafts like knitting and painting, and playing Dungeons & Dragons with friends. You can connect with Ashley on LinkedIn and learn more about her previous work here.


Woman sitting on a rock with the sunset in the background.

Ashley Sacco

Ashley Sacco is a master’s student in Dr. Alison Scoville’s lab at Central Washington University, where she investigates the patterns of Clark’s nutcracker occupancy in post-fire whitebark pine ecosystems. Preliminary results from Dr. Alison Scoville’s lab and Dr. Taza Schaming indicate that Clark’s nutcrackers prefer unburned habitat but are present in moderately and severely burned habitat types. Activity levels also vary within different burn severities, suggesting that there are unmeasured habitat variables influencing nutcracker occupancy. Ashley aims to learn where nutcrackers effectively facilitate whitebark pine regeneration after fire to better inform restoration efforts in the North Cascades of Washington state.

Inspired by the unique mutualism between Clark’s nutcrackers and whitebark pine, Ashley seeks to reveal critical insights into this system’s resilience and the potential need for human intervention in post-fire regeneration. She plans to graduate in Spring 2025 and aspires to work with a nonprofit, government agency, or academic research community, focusing on areas such as ecotoxicology, parasitology, fire ecology, and wildlife conservation medicine. Outside of her research, Ashley enjoys multimedia art inspired by wildlife, cross-country skiing, backpacking, hiking, kayaking, and road trips with her dog, Eno. She is interested in taking a scientific illustration certification course so she can continue immersing herself in art and science simultaneously. Visit Ashley’s website to learn more about her work (password: strixoccidentalis).


Man standing in an open forest.

Enzo Martelli Moya

Enzo Martelli Moya is a PhD student in Dr. Cara Nelson’s Restoration Ecology Lab at the University of Montana. His academic journey began with his Master’s thesis, which focused on the ecological response of whitebark pine to restoration treatments as part of the “Restoring Whitebark Pine Ecosystems” (RWPE) project initiated by Bob Keane and Russell Parsons. Enzo’s dissertation focuses on the variability in spatiotemporal dynamics of whitebark pine canopy recruitment and its relationship to natural disturbances. He is motivated by the fragility and complexity of whitebark pine communities, believing they offer invaluable opportunities to expand ecological knowledge for designing effective conservation and restoration strategies. Enzo plans to graduate within the next three years and hopes to continue his research on whitebark pine recruitment dynamics while pursuing a teaching career in forest sciences. Additionally, Enzo plans to continue working with the Society of Ecological Restoration (SER) to help develop opportunities for students and emerging professionals in ecological restoration. Outside of academia, Enzo enjoys fly fishing in the creeks of Missoula (MT) and Lostine (OR) and experimenting with new flavors for empanada recipes, including his popular Steelhead empanada. You can connect with Enzo on LinkedIn, Google Scholar, and Instagram.