Our Story

In the summer of 2004, John Pickett was working as a U.S. Forest Service technician in the Lake Tahoe Basin. That summer, John saw that most of Tahoe’s white pines - including the princely sugar pine, the world’s largest pine - were dying due to a non-native, invasive fungus called white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola). John knew that losing Tahoe’s white pines would be catastrophic for the region’s wildlife, water quality and economy; not to mention future generations of nature-lovers and recreationalists.

Although blister rust is incurable, about 3-5% of sugar pines and western white pines possess a natural genetic resistance to the fungus. John felt passionate about saving Tahoe's forests, and he knew what to do: identify blister rust resistant trees, collect their seed, and plant their progeny. He decided to take action and by July of 2005, he had created the Sugar Pine Foundation, a non-profit corporation dedicated to restoring the natural regeneration of white pines in the Tahoe region and beyond.

Aside from the help of invaluable volunteers, the Sugar Pine Foundation was basically a one-man operation until July of 2007, when Maria Mircheva took over as Executive Director. The organization is still tiny, but the staff has grown a bit over the years. Currently with 2 permanent, 3 seasonal staff and 5 BOD members, the SPF is committed to  raise awareness and counteract the threat of white pine blister rust.


Our Vision

The SPF is committed to continuing to grow and expand its influence.  Our Vision encompasses our long-term goals:

  • SPF will be the primary partner in white pine restoration activities for public and private agencies in the Sierra Nevada.
  • SPF will be the “go to” contractor for rust research data and cone collections.
  • SPF will be the primary source of seed and seedlings (from rust resistant seed trees) for restoration and landscaping.
  • SPF will be the lead forest education provider in the Tahoe area, and a consulting partner for outreach groups throughout the Sierra Nevada.
  • A significant number of community members and visitors to the Tahoe area will be familiar with the problem of blister rust and our efforts to combat it.


SPF Founder, John Pickett, climbs a 100+ foot tall tree in his quest to "Save the Sugar Pines!"