From its purple mountains to amber meadows, the Greater Yellowstone Area is home to 67 different mammal species including grizzlies, bison, gray wolf, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and mountain lion, claiming the largest concentration of mammals of any national park in the lower 48 states.
But the remote Rocky Mountains that are part of the Yellowstone area are under siege by the twin threats of mountain pine beetles and an exotic blister rust that attack high-elevation pines, both fueled by the trend towards warmer winters tied to climate change. These pines, including whitebark pine and limber pine, are the key to sustaining high-elevation ecosystems that are essential to preserving snow pack and acting as nurse trees that create habitat for other tree species.
In addition, whitebark pine serves as a vital food source to grizzly bears, with seeds that offer as much fat as a stick of butter, making them important to survival for winter hibernation, and to keeping the bears in the wildland forests instead of human neighborhoods.
In 1999, American Forests joined the battle to overpower the pestilence, and in 2013, brought together partners in Yellowstone to research, develop and implement solutions. From creating pheromone patches that fool pine beetles into thinking a tree is already occupied, to cone collection and cultivation of blister rust disease-resistant seedlings, the efforts are making headway against a virulent epidemic. Over this time, American Forests has planted 300,000 whitebark pine trees across the tree’s range.
The stakes are high. These mountains are the source of water for 16 states, including California’s rich agricultural fields that grow produce for much of our country. Yellowstone stands as a powerful example of how critical forests are to the health and well-being of a cascade of creatures, including us humans.