The Love Story Of An Endangered Tree And The Little Bird Who Eats Its Seeds

"The balance of an ecosystem hangs on the survival of a scraggly mountain tree. In northwest B.C., ecologists are facing climate change, droughts and wildfires as they work to protect whitebark pine and the species that rely on it".

"When a little gray bird with black wings flies into a bushy tree on the edge of a steep mountain slope, ecologist Alana Clason scrambles to find her binoculars. It flits away, a darting shadow against the glacial green backdrop of the lake at the bottom of the valley. She examines the tree as the bird screeches from somewhere nearby.

“Oh, yeah, there’s little conelets,” she says, excitedly. “Hopefully it’ll come back and hang out.”

Clason studies mountain ecosystems and leads an extensive, complex restoration project in northwest B.C. focused on protecting whitebark pine, an endangered tree species. Between climate change, deforestation, competition from other tree species and an invasive fungus called blister rust, whitebark has been in decline for over a century. It’s the only tree in Western Canada on the federal list of endangered species.

“Likely, none of the causes of decline can be reversed,” the tree’s assessment by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada states grimly. “The effects of mountain pine beetle, climate change and fire exclusion will increase the decline rate further.”"

Matt Simmons reports for The Guardian with photography by Facundo Gastiazoro November 28, 2023.

Source: The Narwhal, 11/30/2023