09 December 2008

Whitebark Pine: endangered species status?

Like the American pika and other alpine species, the whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) populations are victims of global warming. - EcoRover
Group wants pines listed

By Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: December 9, 2008

Threats including climate change, blister rust and the mountain pine beetle mean whitebark pine trees should receive protection under the Endangered Species Act, according to conservation groups.

The Natural Resources Defense Council plans to announce a petition to list the tree species today. NRDC officials said they will file the petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.

“There are huge die-offs going on, and those resources [available under Endangered Species Act protection] are necessary if we want to prevent this tree species from disappearing from the region altogether,” said Josh Mogerman, spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That’s why we need to step in and help.”

While scientists aren’t sure exactly how much whitebark pine has disappeared in the last decade, some regions have seen significant declines. Whitebark pine benefits a number of animal species, including grizzly bears, and acts as a pioneer species providing soil stability and shelter from the wind for trees and other vegetation so they can survive near treeline.

Mogerman said whitebark pine trees are particularly vulnerable because infectious species like pine beetles and blister rust have benefitted from warmer temperatures in recent years.

“As global warming begins to take hold and affect the western part of this continent, those species like the pine beetle and blister rust are able to move higher and higher in elevation,” he said. “This is the first warning of a much larger problem that we’re going to have to be dealing with throughout the higher mountains in North America.”

While the future seems bleak for whitebark pine, Mogerman said researchers have already begun to implement solutions. One method to keep whitebark on the landscape is to plant trees resistant to blister rust in suitable habitat.

“There are solutions to this problem, but the solutions require resources,” he said.

Louise Lasley, public lands director for the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, said whitebark pine trees in the Jackson Hole area have declined as they have in the rest of the northern Rocky Mountains.

“On some slopes, around Grouse Mountain in particular, every single whitebark pine tree is dead,” she said. “My first response to this is that I think it is a good thing to have whitebark pine on the endangered species list.”

Diana Tomback, a professor of biology at the University of Colorado Denver and director of the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation, said some researchers are hesitant to put the whitebark pine on the endangered species list. “Whitebark is in trouble,” she said. “There is no question. If being on the endangered species list brings more money for management and restoration of whitebark pine ecosystems and more attention to what is going on, I am completely in favor of it being listed.”

“However, if being on the list hampers our ability to execute restoration and management, then that is a problem,” Tomback said. “It really comes down to: Will this bring more attention to whitebark pine or will it languish on the list like so many other species?”

Whitebark pine from Flicker:


troutbirder said...

This is so discouraging. Last spring we saw whole forests practically wiped out in the Black Hills. Great writing & pics as I especially enjoyed your Twin Bridges post. One of my sons and I made several trips into the Big hole for fishing and also stopped at the battlefield and great little museum there.

Editor said...

Hi Pat,
need a pic of you for the christmas card.
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