* Warmer temperatures let tree-killing beetles survive
* U.S. admits risk, but worse-off species take precedence
* Government review in 12 months
By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
WASHINGTON, July 19 An iconic species of the
American West, the whitebark pine, is at risk of extinction
from climate change and disease, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service said on Tuesday, but no immediate action is planned.
There isn't enough money to list the whitebark pine as
endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, with
other species taking priority. Such a listing would trigger a
recovery plan, the wildlife service said in a document
published in the Federal Register.
Government wildlife specialists will review the tree's
status in 12 months to determine the level of biological risk
and to determine if there are enough resources to begin
crafting a plan for it to recover.
"We believe (the whitebark pine) is in danger of
extinction, or likely to become so in the foreseeable future,
throughout all or a significant portion of its range," the
The tall tree's range includes mountainous areas of
California, Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and
Washington state in the United States, and British Columbia and
Alberta in Canada.
One key threat is the mountain pine beetle, which needs to
kill whitebark pine trees to reproduce. The beetle has long
been in the American West, but its ability to reproduce and
survive winters has improved as temperatures have risen over
HABITAT COULD BE NEARLY GONE BY 2100
Other factors include an invasive disease called blister
rust, the wildlife service said.
"Climate change is expected to significantly decrease the
probability of rangewide persistence" of the tree, the wildlife
service said, with a possible 70 percent decline in
distribution across its range starting in 2030.
By 2100, less than 3 percent of the species' suitable
habitat is expected to remain, the wildlife service said.
Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group
that petitioned to protect the whitebark pine, said the
government's decision makes this "the first broadly dispersed
tree that the federal government has clearly pegged as a
Whitebark pine is considered a foundation species, which
means it is one of the first to pioneer areas and create
conditions needed for other plants and animals to get
established in the harsh alpine ecosystem. The trees' branches
block wind, prolong snowmelt, regulate spring runoff and reduce
the potential for flooding and erosion.
"This designation (by the wildlife service) will help bring
attention to saving these tough trees and the long list of
species,' like Yellowstone's grizzly bears, that are reliant on
them to live in this harsh environment," NRDC's Louisa Wilcox
said in a statement.
The wildlife service said that immediately listing the
whitebark pine as endangered or threatened is "precluded by
higher priority listing actions."
An emergency regulation that would give the tree temporary
protection is not warranted now "because the threats acting on
the species are not impacting the entire species across its
range to the pint where the species will be immediately lost."
The service said this kind of temporary listing could be an
option in the future.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)