One of last month’s recipients of a 2012 Arbor Day Award was the Greater Yellowstone Whitebark Pine Committee, a multi-agency partnership to alleviate threats to the critically endangered whitebark pine tree in America’s mountain west.
The stakes are high. Without sufficient action to keep pine trees vital, a major source of our nation’s fresh water is at risk.
Earlier this week, Washington Post environmental reporter Juliet Eilperin wrote about a variety of strategies the U.S. Forest Service has pursued to protect pine trees and the critical habitat they support. The challenge has been heightened by an increase in beetle infestation brought on by a warming climate
Drought, whitebark blister rust and competition with other tree species are related threats facing both the whitebark and several other species of pine.
The whitebark pine tree was recently determined to be warranted for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. A number of groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, are working toward getting the species officially added to that list.
According to Eilperin, federal officials are in a race against the climate to figure out how to best protect and preserve vital benefits.
Scientists know that global warming will reshape these forests, which provide crucial habitat and food for key species, curb soil erosion and slow melting snow destined for local water supplies. What they don’t yet understand is which trees are best poised to survive under these changed conditions and how they can help them adapt in the decades to come.
One strategy currently being pursued is the deployment of pheromones to send insects a false signal that a tree has already been mass-attacked, prompting the beetle to move on. “It’s like we draw them in and we tell them, ‘The hotel’s full,’” Jeff Witcosky, a Forest Service official, told Eilperin.
Another strategy Eilperin discusses is the collection and storage of seeds from high-elevation pine trees, one of the areas in which the Greater Whitebark Pine Committee has participated. The seeds are an insurance policy in case direct combat against infestation is unsuccessful.
Read the whole story here. And, check out our short video about the Greater Yellowstone Whitebark Pine Committee below.