"Icon" whitebark pine by Leidy Lake, east flank Mt. Leidy, Bridger-Teton National. Credit: James Balog

With increasingly warm winters at high elevations in the West, a predator that has stalked forests for decades has gained the upper hand. It is white pine blister rust, an invasive fungus. In some areas, blister rust and mountain pine beetles have successfully killed 90 percent or more of the pine species within a forest. To make matters worse, the species most susceptible to these two threats, the whitebark pine, is also the most vital to ecosystem stability, essential to the survival of more than 190 plant and animal species in Yellowstone alone. As a result, the health of the Rocky Mountains and neighboring regions is in danger.

Also at stake is the stability of the snowpack, which impacts the stream and river flows that provide water for 13 states, including populous cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and increases the potential for avalanches and soil erosion, affecting the safety of homes and property in the area.

On June 26th, American Forests will host Exploring Western Forests and Climate Change, an evening focused on exploring America’s western forests and how disease, insects and climate change have dramatically altered this landscape. Co-sponsored by the National Resources Defense Council, this event will focus on high-elevation forests of the western mountains, the alarming rate these forests are disappearing and the need for immediate restoration of this ecosystem.

Exploring Western Forests and Climate Change will feature James Balog, PhotoMedia magazine’s 2011 “Person of the Year,” and Dr. Diana F. Tomback, an evolutionary ecologist, who specializes on white pines of the western forests. Using photographs, video and film with the written word, Balog will exhibit dramatic photographic documentation of forests destroyed by mountain pine beetles. Dr. Tomback’s discussion of the whitebark pine’s vital role in ecosystem stability will demonstrate the level of damage already affecting our western landscapes.

Exploring Western Forests and Climate Change is a free event and open to the public. The evening will start with a reception at 5:30 pm, followed by the program from 6:30-7:30 p.m. The event will take place at National Geographic Auditorium, located at 1145 17th Street Northwest Washington, D.C. 20036. If you would like to attend, please RSVP to rsvp@americanforests.org.


About the speakers:

James Balog innovatively combines art and science to explore a changing planet and inspire transformative social action. He has been a leader in photographing, understanding and interpreting the natural environment for three decades. Balog spent six years of his life on a quest to photograph North America’s largest, oldest and strongest trees, including inventing a method to photograph 300-plus-foot trees in segments from top to bottom.

Balog has also captured the impact of climate change through his Extreme Ice Survey, the most wide-ranging, ground-based photographic survey of glaciers ever conducted. This project — time-lapse photography capturing glacial melting — was showcased by National Geographic in 2007 and 2010, featured in the 2009 NOVA documentary “Extreme Ice” and the subject of the documentary Chasing Ice, which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

Dr. Diana F. Tomback, a member of American Forests Science Advisory Board, has spent decades researching the evolution and ecology of several species of white pines and the birds that disperse their seeds. Her information on whitebark pine ecology has become particularly valuable as these trees experience major declines resulting from a combination of past fire-exclusion policies, mountain pine beetles and white pine blister rust.

To combine research efforts to address these issues, Dr. Tomback founded the Whitebark Pine Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to restoration of and education on whitebark pine ecosystems. Based in part on her previous work, management strategies are being devised and implemented by her colleagues at the U.S. Forest Service.