Hoping to find ways to reverse a potential environmental disaster, several land managing federal agencies are working together in the Greater Yellowstone Area, which includes the Shoneshone, Gallatin and Teton National Forests, to address the wide spread loss of whitebark pine trees due to the effects of climate change.
The new interagency agreement, which includes the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and BLM, is designed specifically to coordinate inventory, monitoring and management of whitebark pine. The agreement seeks also to explore new collaborative projects to help protect and restore the species throughout the 15 million acre region surrounding Yellowstone National Park.
“We need a landscape-scale approach to large scale issues like this. The Forest Service has a lot to offer with land management, science and landowner services all under one roof. Yet, working with other federal agencies can help us address problems more efficiently and effectively,” said Dave Cleaves, U.S. Forest Service climate change advisor.
Whitebark pines grow in the very highest reaches of the Greater Yellowstone Area and scientists consider them a foundation species because they create conditions necessary for other plants and animals to survive in an Alpine region where winters are long and bitterly cold. The pines also produce a calorie-rich nut that several keystone animal species in the region including grizzly bears, red squirrels and Clark’s nutcrackers, depend upon to survive the long and bitterly cold winters that are a hallmark of the Greater Yellowstone Area.
The whitebark pine plays and important role in clean drinking water as the sheer size of the tree also helps maintain watersheds. In winter its bulk serves as natural snow fences, and in spring that same bulk helps shield the resulting snow banks from the sun, thus allowing for a relatively slow and even snow melt.