Project Name: Whitebark Pine Planting in Keg Springs
Location: Caribou-Targhee National Forest, WY
Number of Trees: 15,000
It’s estimated that 50,000 grizzly bears lived in the United States at the time of its founding. However, as America’s population expanded, the grizzlies’ numbers shrunk, as they became the prize catch of big-game hunters and pioneers heading west. Today, it’s estimated that less than 1,400 grizzly bears exist in the wild, and they are now threatened under the Endangered Species Act. While recovery zones are helping to boost their numbers, even such legal protections aren’t enough: Climate change is putting grizzlies at risk once again.
In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that whitebark pine’s inclusion on the Endangered Species Act list was warranted, due to threats from mountain pine beetle infestation and blister rust, which are being made worse by climate change. It is now a candidate species for the list. Whitebark pine trees are dying in America’s western forests by the thousands, throughout the home range of the grizzly.
Beyond the loss of habitat and cover, grizzlies rely on whitebark pine for their diet. Despite the common view of the grizzly as a ferocious killer, much of grizzly bears’ diet consists of nuts, berries, fruit, leaves, roots and seeds, such as those from the whitebark pine. Whitebark pine is a keystone species in the West, and grizzlies and other species rely on it for survival. This is why American Forests is partnering with the USDA Forest Service to restore whitebark pine to areas of Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
2008’s Willow Fire destroyed hundreds of acres of whitebark pine in Caribou-Targhee. In 2010, American Forests planted 15,000 trees to help restore the affected area, and this year, our Global ReLeaf program will plant 15,000 trees in the national forest’s grizzly bear Primary Conservation Area/Recovery Zone in the Ashland/Island Park Ranger District to further restore the fire-damaged forest. To help bolster success, the seedlings being used for the plantings were grown from seeds in areas showing a high resistance to blister rust.
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