Decline of whitebark pine could mean hungry grizzlies

  Dear HCN,


We greatly appreciated the article by Mark Matthews, "Last chance for the whitebark pine" (HCN, 12/4/00: Last chance for the whitebark pine), which described the widespread decline of the once abundant high-elevation whitebark pine ecosystem in the Northwestern United States and Southwestern Canada. The losses result from the combination of introduced disease (white pine blister rust) and fire suppression. We would like to note further that replacement of whitebark pine by more shade-tolerant conifers has a variety of consequences, ranging from altered hydrological patterns to more severe fire regimes to local and regional losses in biodiversity. An interesting juxtaposition to the whitebark pine article was Sherry Devlin's "Grizzlies invited back to the Bitterroot." The reasons given in the Devlin article for selecting the Middle Fork drainage of the Salmon River for grizzly bear reintroduction included food resources. The historically important grizzly bear foods in this region include whitebark pine seeds and salmon.


Whitebark pine - which comprises a major subalpine zone forest type in the Selway-Bitterroot and Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness areas - is heavily infected with white pine blister rust.


Blister rust is migrating farther south and east, with local intensification over time - a pattern that we are now seeing in the Greater Yellowstone Area. Whitebark pine treetops bear the seed cones, and they are damaged first by the rust. In another decade, much of the whitebark pine in this region could be heavily infected, with little to no seed production.


The bottom line is that two important components of critical grizzly bear habitat (whitebark pine and the anadromous salmon whose runs have been depleted by dams and other human-induced changes) are in poor shape in the area planned for grizzly bear reintroduction, and we do not see anyone addressing this issue. Given the cost of reintroduction and the importance of keeping bears well-fed at the higher elevations and away from people, the first step in this process should be long-term restoration efforts in whitebark pine communities.


Diana F. Tomback, Denver, Colorado
Stephen F. Arno, Florence, Montana

Tombeck and Arno are both long-term members of the Whitebark Pine Research Team, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.

High Country News Classifieds
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Communications Associate Director Location: Flexible within the Western U.S., Durango, CO preferred Position reports to: Senior Communications Director The Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF)...
  • HISTORIC HOTEL & CAFE
    For Sale, 600k, Centennial Wyoming, 6 suites plus 2 bed, 2 bath apartment. www.themountainviewhotel.com Make this your home or buy a turn key hotel [email protected]
  • MAJOR GIFTS OFFICER
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Major Gifts Officer to join our...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    Basic Summary: The Vice President for Landscape Conservation is based in the Washington, D.C., headquarters and oversees Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing...
  • BRISTOL BAY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Seeking a program director responsible for developing and implementing all aspects of the Alaska Chapter's priority strategy for conservation in the Bristol Bay region of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The National Bighorn Sheep Center is looking for an Executive Director to take us forward into the new decade with continued strong leadership and vision:...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, based in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a new Executive Director with a passion for rural communities, water, and working lands....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.