When you picture Canada, you probably create a mental image of tall peaks and expansive subalpine forests – and you wouldn’t be wrong! Approximately 40% of Canada’s territory is covered in forests. There are approximately 140 native species of trees found in Canada, and one of them is Pinus albicaulis, otherwise known as the whitebark pine tree.
What is a whitebark pine tree?
Whitebark pine trees are a subalpine coniferous tree native to western Canada and the United States. They can be found growing in the harsh treeline environments of the Canadian Coastal Mountains, Columbia and Rocky Mountain Ranges, the Cascade Ranges and Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. It grows in high mountain forests and can live for more than 1000 years.
Unfortunately, the whitebark pine has been classified as endangered by the IUCN as well as SARA. This tree has experienced severe population decline primarily due to blister rust and mountain pine beetle outbreaks.
White pine blister rust is a fungal disease that was introduced from Europe. Mortality once infected approaches 90%, which has been devastating for the tree. There is no effective method for controlling the spread of the fungus. Fortunately, 1 in 10,000 of the trees are immune to blister rust.
Why are whitebark pine trees important?
The decline of whitebark pine has significant impacts on the local ecology. These trees are the rapid responders of the tree world – often the first to return when a wildfire or other environmental disaster occurs. Without the whitebark pine tree, forests can’t rebuild themselves after experiencing fire, flood, or landslide. The highly nutritious seeds of the whitebark pine also provide an important food source for nearly 100 wildlife species.
Whitebark trees are planted almost exclusively by Clark’s nutcracker, a species of bird that has an important relationship with the whitebark pine. These birds hide up to 100,000 whitebark pine tree seeds in underground caches. The caches are sometimes forgotten, leading to new whitebark pine growth. Clark’s nutcracker rely on these caches as a source of food for their young during periods of scarcity. A reduction in the nutcracker’s population could spell even more difficulty for this tree in decline.
What can be done to save the whitebark pine tree?
Parks Canada oversees the protection and management of our national parks – that includes the protection of whitebark pine trees. tentree is proud to announce a partnership with Parks Canada that will fund efforts to save the whitebark pine tree from extinction. For every item purchased in our Alpine Collection, ten whitebark pine trees will be planted by Parks Canada.
Parks Canada has spent years working to restore whitebark pine through a variety of initiatives, including by collecting whitebark pine seeds and producing, planting, and monitoring seedlings that are naturally resistant to blister rust. The whitebark pine trees get started at the Tipi Mountain Native Plants nursery, which is an Aboriginal-owned company based in British Columbia just outside of Cranbrook.
Parks Canada has planted more than 27,000 rust-resistant seedlings in the Mountain National Parks of Alberta and British Columbia since 2016, along with 3,500 rust-resistant whitebark pine seeds.
Our goal is to plant an additional 3,600 whitebark pine trees in several Canadian national parks, like Kootenay, Waterton Lakes, Glacier, and Jasper National Parks. Together we can help bring this tree back from the brink of extinction.