Whitebark are literally the rooftop of the northern Rockies. Without the whitebark pines to capture and shade the snow, the spring/summer runoff will occur more quickly. Flooding will be more likely. Streams will be muddier. Steep mountainsides will be left barren and vulnerable to erosion.
Plants and animals that depend upon the shelter of the whitebark’s branches will be forced to find new homes. Fewer seeds will be available for bears, squirrels, and nutcrackers, who may abandon the species in search of other food sources, threatening the remaining whitebarks’ reproduction.
On a larger scale, the loss of the whitebarks, along with the destruction of millions of acres of lodgepoles in Colorado, British Columbia, and elsewhere, speaks to the possibility of widespread deforestation, even desertification, especially if the climate continues to warm. Such losses to North America’s boreal forests will mean fewer trees to absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen, with serious consequences for our own species.
By David Gonzales and Nancy Bockino, Grand Teton National Park ecologist.