The whitebark pine, a wide-ranging tree found throughout the Western U.S. and in British Columbia and Alberta in Canada, may be on its way to extinction due to factors including climate change. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said last week that the tree qualifies for listing as an endangered or threatened species. This is the first time that the federal government has identified climate change as one of the key factors in why a wide-ranging tree could disappear.
According to an article in the Washington Post, the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to place the whitebark pine on the endangered species list. The agency said a listing was “warranted but precluded,” meaning that while that the pine should be listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, funding and resources are not available to protect the pine. In a statement by the National Resources Defense Council, the government’s decision makes the pine “the first broadly dispersed tree that the federal government has clearly pegged as a climate casualty.”
Government wildlife specialists will review the tree’s status over the next year to determine both the level of biological risk and whether there are enough resources to develop a recovery plan. Meanwhile, the Canadian government has already place the whitebark pine on its endangered species list, and a recent study found that more than 50 percent of whitebark pine forests in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem are dead or dying.
The tree, a source of food for bears and birds and whose branches block wind prolonging snowmelt and slowing spring runoff, is under attack by an invasive disease called white pine blister rust, as well as pests such as the mountain pine beetle. The disease makes the whitebark pine more susceptible to the beetles that have started to infiltrate colder altitudes where the trees grow. In the article in the Washington Post, Fish and Wildlife service biologist, Amy Nicholas, stated these factors in addition to fire patterns, and more importantly, global warming are undermining chances for the pine’s long-term survival.
The whitebark pine remains a candidate under the Endangered Species Act and will come under review annually.
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