It’s National Invasive Species Awareness Week, and here at American Forests, we’re all-too-aware of the havoc that invasive species can wreak on our native ecosystems.
Other invasives may lack catchy nicknames, but are no less harmful. American Forests has been working to spread awareness of one invasive with a lower profile: the fungus Cronartium ribicola — cause of the deadly white pine blister rust affecting the American West. Mountain pine beetles often take all the credit for the devastation in Western high-elevation forests in recent years, but they haven’t done it alone. Could blister rust one day be known as the fungus that ate the West?
One of the white pine species susceptible to blister rust is whitebark pine, the sometimes-scraggly, other-worldly, high-elevation pines that are a keystone species in the Mountain West. The death of these pines has cascading effects throughout the ecosystem, from the biggest grizzly bear to the smallest Clark’s nutcracker, both of whom rely on the pine seeds for food. What’s more, without whitebark pine to shade snowpack, snow melts faster and sooner, causing flooding at lower elevations and even affecting the winter outdoor recreation industry.