As go whitebark pine, so go grizzly bears?

Credit: PJM

Ralph Maughan links to a very important article by the AP's Matthew Brown in today’s Casper-Star Tribune on the connection between increasing human-bear conflicts (guess what, the bear loses) and the decline of high alpine whitebark pine trees.


As the article points out:

Hunters are killing grizzly bears in record numbers around Yellowstone National Park, threatening to curb the species' decades-long recovery just two years after it was removed from the endangered species list.

Driving the high death rate, researchers say, is the bears' continued expansion across the 15,000-square-mile Yellowstone region of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming

Bears are being seen -- and killed -- in places where they were absent for decades. And with climate change suspected in the devastation of one of the bear's food sources, there is worry the trend will continue as the animals roam farther afield in search of food…An epidemic of beetles in Yellowstone's high country has laid waste to tens of thousands of acres of whitebark pine trees, which have seeds that some grizzlies rely on as a dietary staple.

In fact, there’s every reason to believe that this trend will continue. Whitebark pine forests are declining throughout their range because of triple-threat posed by global warming (which is shrinking the whitebark pine’s available habitat), pine beetles, and blister rust. 

Here, for example, is a projection of whitebark pine range contraction in response to global warming: 

Modeled bioclimate profile of whitebark pine, Pinus albicaulis, for the present (a) and predicted climate for decades 2030 (b), 2060 (c) and 2090 (d) under climate change scenario using an average of Hadley and CCC GCM scenarios of 1% per year increase GGa. Black indicates location of pixels receiving ≥ 50% proportion of votes in favor of being within the climate profile.

That’s why NRDC petitioned to list the whitebark pine as an endangered species.  It’s also one of the reasons we’re fighting with Earthjustice to overturn the removal of Yellowstone’s grizzly bear population from the federal list of endangered and threatened species.