Federal Land Managers Collaborating On How To Handle Whitebark Pine Issues In Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last July agreed that climate change is imperiling the future of whitebark pine trees across the West. Now federal land managers in the Greater Yellowstone Area that includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks have agreed to work together to try to reverse the plight of the species. Photo of dying pine forests near Grand Teton National Park by Kurt Repanshek.

A "significant loss" of whitebark pine trees in the Greater Yellowstone Area that includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks has federal land managers in the region pledging to work together to find ways to reverse the trend.

On Tuesday representatives for the two parks and the surrounding national forests signed an interagency agreement to "coordinate inventory, monitoring, and management of whitebark pine and explore new collaborative projects to help protect and restore the species throughout the region."

Whitebark pines are a member of the "stone" pine family. They grow in the very highest reaches of Yellowstone, Glacier, Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.

Scientists regard the tree as a “foundation species” because it creates the conditions necessary for other plants and animals to get established in harsh alpine ecosystems. These high-elevation trees produce a calorie-rich nut that grizzly bears in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem like to feast on in the fall. It's a nut that also feeds red squirrels and the Clark's nutcracker.

The sheer stature 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 snowbanks from the sun, thus allowing for a relatively slow and even snow melt.

“We recognize the need to address this issue through interagency collaboration,” said Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee Chair Steve Kallin. “Actions taken on any jurisdiction affect the long-term status of this important species. It is important for all land managers to work together to promote the long-term viability and function of whitebark pine throughout the GYA.”

In May 2011, the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the Whitebark Pine Strategy for the Greater Yellowstone Area. The strategy establishes management objectives, sets priorities, and describes coordination efforts for the agencies that manage federal lands in the GYA.

The agreement signed Tuesday documents interagency support of a seed orchard for whitebark pine propagation and continued support of a long-term monitoring program; it also includes the Bureau of Land Management. The Strategy is available online at this site.

The GYCC formally welcomed the Bureau of Land Management as a member of the committee during its spring meeting in Jackson, Wyoming. Executives of the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) affirming their desire to work cooperatively in the management of core federal lands within the GYA.

The GYCC was established in the 1960s among the national parks and national forests of the GYA, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service joined in 2000. The BLM manages nearly 1.6 million acres of land in the GYA.

“The GYCC members look forward to working with BLM managers at the regional level. We share many issues, and will all benefit from closer coordination,” said Mr. Kallin.

The Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee includes federal land managers from national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and Bureau of Land Management lands across the Greater Yellowstone Area. Together, these agencies manage 15 million acres of federal land. The committee was formed to pursue opportunities of mutual cooperation and coordination in the management of core federal lands within the GYA. Participating federal land managers administer three national parks (Yellowstone, Grand Teton & John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway), two national wildlife refuges (National Elk Refuge, Red Rock Lakes), six national forests (Bridger-Teton, Caribou-Targhee, Shoshone, Gallatin, Beaverhead-Deerlodge, & Custer), and BLM lands in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.