Endangered Western Forests
Five-needle white pines, critical to sustaining high-elevation ecosystems, are disappearing at an alarming rate throughout the western mountain region of the United States.
|Western Forests Facts
Across the American West, our high-elevation white pine forests are vanishing.
A changing environment is accelerating an attack on trees critical to sustaining vast ecosystems. American Forests is working collaboratively to prevent irreversible damage to these endangered western forests. If we do not act now, this iconic landscape may never recover.
A combination of threats — white pine blister rust, mountain pine beetles, climate change and absence of fire — are jeopardizing the health of our high-elevation forests, the results of which compound every day.
- White pine blister rust is a non-native and deadly disease preventing nutrient and water dispersion throughout white pine trees, ultimately reducing cone and seed production and severely limiting regeneration. As only a small number of pine trees are resistant to blister rust, the disease continues to spread as evidenced by a change in foliage color from lush green to diseased gray to red, which signifies tree death. Have you seen red?
- Mountain pine beetles are a native pest that bore into a tree’s bark, killing the tree. As a result of our warming atmosphere, these beetles have shortened their hibernation period, increased their population and reproduction rate and migrated into higher elevations attacking additional tree species previously never exposed to the beetle.
- Our changing climate limits where these high-elevation pine — which require cooler, high-elevation mountain conditions — can flourish. White pine trees are more vulnerable to invaders like blister rust and mountain pine beetles because of the effects of climate change, including warmer temperatures, drought and ground conditions that encourage devastating wildfires.
- Decades of preventing natural fires has created denser forests, which allow pine beetles more trees in which to roam and reproduce. These same policies also stymie the growth of the white pine population, which depends on naturally occurring disturbances like fire to clear open spaces in which they can grow.
High-elevation pines — especially the whitebark pine — that play a critical role in forest communities are suffering.
- A foundation species, these pines create a stable environment for other plants, especially in areas marked by high snow loads, poor soil and short growing seasons, all of which contribute to difficult growth conditions.
- Instrumental in forest succession, whitebark pines grow first in the aftermath of a major disturbance, providing a protected environment for and facilitating the establishment of other species of flora. They create stunning vista points and sightseeing destinations for recreationalists and increase biodiversity of these vital forest ecosystems.
- A keystone species, high-elevation pines provide nesting habitat and shelter, allowing myriad animals to flourish in harsh mountain conditions. In addition, their cones are an important food source for a number of animals, including the iconic American grizzly and black bear, Clark’s nutcracker and other small birds and mammals.
- High-elevation pines also reduce soil erosion and regulate snow melt, ensuring a steady supply of clean water downstreamfor 13 states.
Fast and concerted action is required to ensure the improved health and ongoing survival of these high-elevation forests. American Forests is helping to implement a proactive, boots-on-the ground restoration plan, increase public knowledge and awareness, and advocate on behalf of the forests.
- Working with the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee to implement the restoration actions in their whitebark pine strategy.
- Funding several Global ReLeaf projects dedicated to restoring white pine ecosystems.
- Engaging and educating people about the endangered western forests with events across the country.
- Prioritizing the whitebark pine in our public policy strategy, including continued protection for the grizzly bear. Recently, we submitted public comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supporting the protection of the whitebark pine species under the Endangered Species Act.
- Revisiting our history as a leader in the campaign to save the whitebark pine by digitally re-publishing “The Fight Against the Pine Blister Disease,” which was written in 1917 as an article in American Forests magazine and outlined the concern about the then newly arrived white pine blister rust.