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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 11:30:20 02/11/16

In Reply to: Whitebark Pine Trees posted by rickyberetired


Whitebark Pine forests in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) are found primarily between 9,000 and 10,000 feet elevation. Further west, in Idaho and western Montana, whitebark pine is found at lower elevations, as low as 7,000 feet.

Most of Yellowstone National Park is between 7,000 and 8,000 feet elevation, thus the available terrain for whitebark pine colonization is quite limited.

As you may be aware, Yellowstone's whitebark pine population is suffering considerably, under attack from blister rust and pine beetle infestation. The jury is still out on what impact climate change is or may have on these trees. Whitebark pine nuts are a principal source of high calorie nutrition for grizzlies in the fall, as they prepare to enter their dens. The kcal per gram or ounce value of whitebark pine nuts is only exceeded by that of army cutworm moths, so this food source is believed by some to be crucial to the survival of the Yellowstone grizzly population. Certain organizations have been able to promote this belief to the extent that the courts stepped in to prevent the de-listing of the Yellowstone grizzly. While I recognize the value of this important food source to grizzlies, I also recognize (1) there are many healthy grizzlies in the GYE that do not live near any whitebark pine forests and (2) arguing that the loss of whitebark pine trees would impose a death sentence on grizzlies sells the flexibility and omnivorous realities of grizzlies short.

Anyone wanting to see whitebark pine trees in Yellowstone should simply drive over Dunraven Pass, between Canyon and Tower/Roosevelt. You can see healthy, productive whitebark pines in those relatively open areas as you approach the parking lot for the south trail up Mt. Washburn. In the fall, these trees attract hyperphagic bears, working 7x24 to pack on the pounds. In very good cone crop years (1 or 2 per every five years, on average), this can create major bear jams in this area. As you start descending the south side of Dunraven Pass, you will be passing through a mixed coniferous forest that includes some whitebark pines. Once you get to where things start opening up, uphill, on the right side of the road, you will see clusters of standing dead whitebark pines that burned during the 1988 Fires. Hikers that ascend Mt. Washburn from the Chittenden Road parking lot pass through several of these ghostly clusters of dead whitebark pines.


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