Feds Say Climate is Killing Whitebark Pine Trees In Historic ESA Listing

Fish & Wildlife Service ESA lists iconic high elevation Whitebark Pine trees under assault due to climate change

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The US Fish & Wildlife Service will list the whitebark pine, a wide-ranging species of tree found on mountain tops in much of western North America, under the Endangered Species Act in response to a 2008 petition from the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). The listing explicitly notes the tree faces an “imminent” risk of extinction brought on, in part, by climate change. At the time of the 2008 petition, studies showed 80% of the whitebark pine forests in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem were already dead or dying.

The following is reaction from Sylvia Fallon, a senior director of NRDC’s Science Office, who helped author the initial ESA petition that triggered this listing:

“The listing means that whitebark pine is the first widely distributed tree that the federal government has clearly pegged as a climate casualty—sadly, as climate change worsens, it will not be the last. We can clearly see some of the same conditions impacting other tree species and forests across western North America.

“The whitebark pine’s predicament has been a clear climate change warning that millions could see from their homes and cars as entire forests turned red and died.

“As governments meet in Montreal this week to discuss the impacts of climate change globally, this listing lays bare how dire the situation is not only for this species, but for wildlife around the world—and the communities reliant upon it—as the biodiversity crisis deepens.”

Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) is being decimated throughout its range by an array of including whitepine blister rust, mountain pine beetles, altered fire regimes and climate change Researchers worry that the trees’ disappearance could leave huge holes in some of the continent’s most iconic landscapes, impact nearby communities, and eliminate a crucial food source for wildlife, including Yellowstone’s grizzly bears. Scientists regard the tree as a “foundation species” because of its importance as a species that creates the conditions necessary for other plants and animals get established in the harsh alpine ecosystems of Nevada, the high Sierras of California, throughout the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, and north into the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and Alberta.

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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