The Whitebark Pine Tree may be the first widely dispersed tree to receive endangered species protection. Conservationists have filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stating the tree’s extinction could leave huge holes in some of the continent’s most spectacular landscapes and eliminate food sources for wildlife, including grizzly bears.
The petition argues that the current extent of losses of whitebark pine trees and the future threat of continued global warming put the tree at risk. Under the law, a species is considered endangered if it is in danger of extinction in all or a significant portion of its range. Scientists consider it a “foundation species,” meaning it creates conditions necessary for other plants and animals to live in the harsh alpine ecosystem.
The whitebark pine has declined dramatically due to a triple threat – a disease called the white pine blister rust; the mountain pine beetle, which thrives in the warmer high-altitude conditions produced by the burning of fossil fuels; and forest management practices that have allowed other trees to crowd it out, the NRDC’s petition said.
“It’s kind of a wakeup call about the scope of the problems we’re going to be facing,” said NRDC scientist Sylvia Fallon, an ecologist who was one of the authors of the petition. “All of the pieces of the ecosystem it holds together will also be affected by its loss.”
To learn more about the endangerment of Whitebark Pine tree, visit the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation.