Brett Roper

Local outdoors columnist

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When people think of the Endangered Species Act their minds drift to the conservation of charismatic animals such as wolves, grizzly bears and spotted owls. Mention this Act and people also start to ponder discussions concerning the ecological and economic trade-off that are a part of this law’s protections. What is overlooked, is that unless Congress gets involved, species’ listing under this Act are based on science alone. That is why it is interesting that one recently listed species is a tree: the whitebark pine.

This pine is not found in Utah but does occur in Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada. It is primarily encountered at high elevations in the Northern Rockies, the Cascade Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada Range. Whitebark pine grows slowly, going from a sprout to a cone producing tree in around 60 years. This is a timeframe that encompasses more than three human generations. This slow growth is partly due to being found in areas with poor soils. Despite adaptions that have allowed this species to survive in the harshest of environments, their populations are in decline. Recent data has found that approximately half of the standing trees are dead and half of these deaths occurred over the last couple decades. This is an alarmingly high mortality rate given this species is primarily found on public land, with many populations overlapping protected lands like National Parks and wilderness areas.

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