CASPER, Wyo. — The United States Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday “published a proposed finding for whitebark pine in the Federal Register which would list the species as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act,” according to Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon’s office.
For about a century, a nonnative fungus has been killing whitebark pines and the species is also vulnerable to bark beetles, according to the Associated Press.
“They’ve been all but wiped out in some areas, including the eastern edge of Yellowstone National Park, where they are a source of food for threatened grizzly bears,” the AP reported on Tuesday. “Grizzlies raid squirrel caches of whitebark pine cones and devour the seeds within the cones to fatten up for winter.”
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Gordon’s office also acknowledged that the species serves as an “important food source for wildlife” and that “it is currently threatened by a non-native fungal disease called white pine blister rust.”
The governor’s office says that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not found that human activities are a major threat to the species.
“The proposed rule protects operations, including grazing and logging, under Section 4 of the ESA (also known as a ‘4(d) rule’),” Gordon’s office said. “In addition, the proposed rule does not propose any critical habitat designations.”
Nevertheless, Gordon says that “Wyoming always seeks to avoid the need for [Endangered Species Act] listing.”
“While the inclusion of a 4(d) rule is encouraging and avoids undue burdens for private landowners and businesses, any listing under the ESA is concerning,” Gordon said in the release. “Wyoming always seeks to avoid the need for listing and will remain committed to working with our federal partners to approach species conservation in a pragmatic manner.”
Gordon’s office and state agencies will monitor any further developments pertaining to protections of whitebark pine, according to the release.