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KUNC is among the founding partners of the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration of public media stations that serve the Western states of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Forest Managers Working to Rescue Dwindling Western Pines

Whitebark Pines fill the landscape along the Teton Crest Trail in Wyoming.
Sarah Flanary
U.S. Forest Service
Whitebark Pines fill the landscape along the Teton Crest Trail in Wyoming.

For thousands of years, the Whitebark Pine has provided a valuable food source for birds and bears throughout the Mountain West. But dwindling numbers are forcing forest managers to act.

The tree spans from Alberta and British Columbia in Canada to the Mountain West states of Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and parts of Nevada. But, the number of these trees throughout the region is declining, as much as 90 percent in some areas.

Melissa Jenkins works with the Forest Service at Flathead National Forest in Montana. She says an invasive disease known as blister rust is a major culprit.

"It has spread and just decimated Whitebark Pine, because the tree didn't have much resistance to it, hadn't built it up evolutionarily," she says. "And, so they're very much susceptible to the rust."

However, she says her team did find some mature trees that had built up a resistance. They are now using those to create more disease-resistant generations.

The Whitebark Pine has its own natural challenges, mainly that it takes 50-75 years before the tree becomes mature enough to create cones and seeds. To speed up this process, Jenkins is taking branches from healthy, mature trees and grafting them onto younger ones.

"That branch still thinks it's on the top of a 100-year-old tree and is supposed to be producing cones," she says.

Another helpful tool for Jenkins is prescribed burns, as fire helps prepare the land for seeds, while removing the Whitebark Pine's competition for resources.

A number of local and regional conservation groups are getting involved, with the ultimate goal of creating a natural restoration plan.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration among Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2020 KUNR Public Radio. To see more, visit .

Noah Glick is from the small town of Auburn, Indiana and comes to KUNR from the Bay Area, where he spent his post-college years learning to ride his bike up huge hills. He’s always had a love for radio, but his true passion for public radio began when he discovered KQED in San Francisco. Along with a drive to discover the truth and a degree in Journalism from Ball State University, he hopes to bring a fresh perspective to local news coverage.