by Carole Jorgensen
On Dec. 14, 2022, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed whitebark pine as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). More than 100 species utilize whitebark pine including Hairy Woodpeckers, Cassin’s Finch, Mountain Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks, bears, and importantly, Clark’s Nutcrackers who are responsible for a majority of whitebark pine regeneration.
A single nutcracker can cache up to 98,000 of the high energy nuts per year and disperse them for miles. Whitebark pine nuts are 52 percent fat and 21 percent protein, and also provide many essential minerals. The threats to whitebark pine are primarily an invasive non-native pathogen that causes blister rust, mountain pine beetle infestations (exacerbated by climate change), and fire exclusion regimes. The ESA status review noted that as of 2016, 51 percent of all standing whitebark pine trees were dead. Raising whitebark pine from the 2011 candidate listing is good because it brings additional protection and management actions to the species.
About the same time whitebark pines were listed as threatened, I got a call from a colleague telling me the “good” news that Marbled Murrelets, classified as threatened under the ESA, were being reclassified as endangered under Oregon’s endangered species act. (Montana does not have an endangered species act).
While the listing news means that these two species will receive greater protection, analysis, and attention, the news of their increased risk and declining condition hit me as a failure to proactively act to improve the conditions of these species, despite our long-term knowledge of their significant risks. It also was a gut-wrenching memory of the species that went extinct on my watch while working in Oregon.
I have the greatest respect for the biologists and managers and citizen scientists, including Audubon members, who do the hard and often grueling work of evaluating the numbers, distributions, and threats to rare species. It is difficult to evaluate rare species due to limited budgets, political pressure, changing climate and other threats. Given that, what can you do? There are some specific proactive measures individuals can take for whitebark pine: continue watching Clark’s Nutcrackers and recording observations in e-bird, and check out “Save the Whitebark Pine” at https://www.americanforests.org/save-the-whitebark-pine/.
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