Welcome Back! As we continue our journey back to 1990, we are bringing you the perilous story of the whitebark pine.
As you will read, 2013 was only one of the many years American Forests worked protecting and restoring the whitebark pine, and if you follow us you may know this story and how our work on this critical species is far from over. That year, American Forests and our partners planted 6,300 trees in an area damaged by wildfire and a pest outbreak.
The whitebark pine is a magnificent white pine species that can live for more than 1,000 years and plays a critical role in its ecosystem. Its broad crowns and ability to grow in high elevations mean it is essential in regulating snow melt and soil erosion while providing a clean, consistent water supply for more than a dozen states. Whitebark has also been designated as both a keystone and a foundation species. Approximately 190 species of plants grow in whitebark pine communities, many of these plants unique to the ecosystem. In addition, whitebark’s large, nutritious seeds provide a high calorie content — more calories per pound than chocolate — for more than two dozen animal species.
Unfortunately, the whitebark pine is arguably one of the most vulnerable tree species in North America. This slow-growing pine is shade-intolerant and its seeds are not dispersed by wind, making it a poor competitor among forest competitors. In addition to the pine’s natural limitations, whitebark is also highly vulnerable to the non-native white pine blister rust and mountain pine beetle infestations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reviewed an application to list the whitebark pine on the Endangered Species list in 2011, stating that protection was warranted, but the species would be precluded from the list due to a lack of funding.
American Forests’ work through Global ReLeaf and our Endangered Western Forests program, have addressed these unique challenges. American Forests’ first whitebark pine Global ReLeaf project was in 1999 planting 5,000 trees in the Targhee National Forests. Since that year, American Forests has continued our commitment to this threatened ecosystem planting more than 245,000 whitebarks restoring more than 1,000 acres.
Throughout the years, these projects have incorporated volunteers and communities to increase their commitment to the restoration of the whitebark pine. In addition, much work has been done to increase the survival of the planted seedlings. The whitebark has been through rigorous research and tests to ensure that the seedlings being planted have the highest possible resistance to white pine blister rust. We look forward to what the future holds as we continue working on this challenge.