For Immediate Release, December 14, 2022
Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495, email@example.com
Whitebark Pine Protected as Threatened Under Endangered Species Act
Pine Imperiled in Seven Western States by Disease, Climate Change
PORTLAND, Ore.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the whitebark pine will be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The pine is the most widespread tree to receive such protection. It occurs in high-elevation areas of Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Nevada.
The tree is primarily threatened by an introduced fungal pathogen known as white pine blister rust. It is increasingly threatened by climate change, which is leading to increased fires and mountain pine beetle outbreaks.
Like most imperiled species, the tree is also threatened by habitat destruction. The whitebark pine is threatened specifically by development for winter recreation. Despite this additional threat, the Service declined to designate protected critical habitat.
“It’s just incredibly sad to see so many dead whitebark pines in the high country,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These exceedingly beautiful trees are an icon of our western mountains and they need all the help they can get, including protection from development.”
Efforts are under way to collect seeds from apparently disease-resistant individuals and outplant seedlings. It’s also important to protect the places on the landscape where the tree is managing to survive, and critical habitat protection could have helped with that.
The whitebark pine is a keystone species in high-elevation areas. It provides food for grizzly bears and many other species. The trees also slow snowmelt, helping to maintain stream flow into the summer months, which benefits fish and other aquatic species.
“The whitebark pine is just one of the many species being pushed off the tops of mountains by climate change and other factors,” said Greenwald. “With warmer temperatures and earlier snowmelt, we’re also losing wolverines, pikas and many more. This should be setting off alarm bells that we need to get our planet-warming pollution under control.”
The loss of whitebark pine, along with the earlier disappearance of the American chestnut from eastern deciduous forests, should have triggered much more robust efforts to ensure that pathogens aren’t accidentally introduced through trade in plants and animals, but this trade continues largely unhindered.
In the past couple of decades, novel pathogens have killed millions of North American bats and are killing snakes and rabbits in increasing numbers. It’s very likely that COVID-19 arose from the wildlife trade, meaning that it’s not just plants and animals that are being affected by the careless trade of native species.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.