CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – Conservationists filed a petition Tuesday asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for endangered species protection for the Whitebark Pine Tree.
The Natural Resources Defense Council says the tree is being decimated by global warming, insects and invasive diseases. The white bark pine is central to many North American mountain ecosystems, including the Yellowstone area. The NRDC says the tree’s extinction could leave huge holes in some of the continent’s most spectacular landscapes and eliminate food sources for wildlife, including grizzly bears.
University of Montana scientist Dr. Diana Six says the effects of the Whitebark Pine’s demise are being seen all over the world. In particular, Six says bark beetles are playing a bigger role due to global warming. Six and other scientists say warmer temperatures allow the beetle to survive in higher elevations, an area where the trees were usually safe from the insects and other diseases.
If endangered species protection is granted, the Whitebark Pine would be the first widely dispersed tree to receive that status. Scientists consider it a “foundation species,” meaning it creates conditions necessary for other plants and animals to live in the harsh alpine ecosystem.