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Whitebark Pine Tree - Iconic Endangered Keystone Species
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© Christine Till - CT-Graphics
The Whitebark Pine is not just any tree! It is a 'pioneer species' and may be been the first species of tree to colonize the pumice covered slopes of Mt. Mazama after its cataclysmic eruption - today Crater Lake, Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.
Found in high elevation locations in the western US and Canada, whitebark pines may not be well known by many, but these spritely-looking trees are the king of their ecosystem. As an early colonizer to harsh, alpine habitat, whitebark pine provides shelter and windbreaks making the environment more hospitable for other plant life and animals. And the shade of whitebark pine tree slows the melting of snow and its roots stabilize the soil thereby moderating the runoff of snowmelt to reduce spring-time flooding and provide higher stream flows during summer months at lower elevations.
Crater Lake's iconic whitebark pine trees have been dying for decades and park ecologists estimate that they will be wiped out within 50 years. Blister rust, a fungus, has infected trees throughout the west coast region. Although the future looks bleak, scientists are trying to figure out methods for protecting the trees from this disease. Whitebark Pines may soon become the first major tree species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act.
March 26th, 2011
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