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Notification Alert

WHITEBARK PINE
CONSERVATION EFFORTS

Whitebark Pine (Pinus Albicaulis)

The area that makes up Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is a thriving habitat for many species, including the critically endangered Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis).

This high altitude pine tree is distinctive with its smooth, silvery bark and large cones that grow on the very top of the tree. They are also easily identifiable by the cluster of 5 needle bundles that grow from 5-9cm in length. Can you identify the white bark pine trees in the area?

The magnificent Whitebark Pine has many factors against them in today’s world. With ongoing issues such as climate change and invasive species, tied with low reproduction and limited opportunities for natural regeneration, it has become clear it is time for some intervention.

Ecosystem = Habitat

The Whitebark Pine plays a central role as a keystone and foundational species in subalpine ecosystems, such as this one. The hardy roots of the Whitebark Pine lay a deep foundation in the harsh high elevation environment, which in turn facilitates growth for vegetation that otherwise would not be able to produce in this ecosystem alone. Their roots also help to stabilize soil and snow, limiting erosion and even avalanche prevention. This makes the Whitebark Pine a key player in the alpine water cycle by holding onto the snowpack, which helps to maintain snow melt regulation and downstream flow. The Whitebark Pine also creates a staple diet for wildlife such as grizzly bears, red squirrels, and Clarks nutcrackers – which rely on their large nutrient rich seeds.

Slow Growing

Typically, these hardy high elevation trees could live upwards to 1000 years old. They are slow reproducers and do not begin to produce cones until they are 30 to 50 years of age. Significant cone production does not begin until they are 60-80 years of age, and peak production does not occur until the tree is 250 years of age.

Whitebark Pine natural restoration is limited due to almost solely relying on the medium sized grey and black bird with a dagger for a beak, known as the Clarks Nutcracker (Nucifraga Columbiana). The cones of the Whitebark Pine are tough to crack, and do not release their seeds like most other conifer trees. The sharp beak of the Clarks Nutcracker is a useful tool to break open these tough cones in order to get to the nutrient rich seeds. The Clarks nutcracker can hold up to 150 seeds in their sublingual pouch, and typically cache 5-15 seeds at a time into the earth. They can bury tens of thousands of seeds every year and remember where these seed caches are located. However, many of the Whitebark Pine trees that you see along this trail were once seeds cached and never forgotten by the Clarks Nutcracker.

Endangered

Whitebark Pine became critically endangered in 2012 due to a combination of invasive species and climate change. The leading threats to the survival of Whitebark Pine include White Pine Blister Rust (pictured), wildfires, and mountain pine beetle. In particular, White Pine Blister Rust is responsible for 50% of the decline of the species in the past century.  In the interior mountain ecosystems, such as this one, the decline of Whitebark Pine is at 1.5% per year, which is over 78% over the next 100 years. Across Canada the decline is 50% over the next century.

Whitebark Pine natural restoration is limited due to almost solely relying on the medium sized grey and black bird with a dagger for a beak, known as the Clarks Nutcracker (Nucifraga Columbiana). The cones of the Whitebark Pine are tough to crack, and do not release their seeds like most other conifer trees. The sharp beak of the Clarks Nutcracker is a useful tool to break open these tough cones in order to get to the nutrient rich seeds. The Clarks nutcracker can hold up to 150 seeds in their sublingual pouch, and typically cache 5-15 seeds at a time into the earth. They can bury tens of thousands of seeds every year and remember where these seed caches are located. However, many of the Whitebark Pine trees that you see along this trail were once seeds cached and never forgotten by the Clarks Nutcracker.

How to Save a Species

Kicking Horse Mountain Resort has partnered with the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation of Canada to help give this essential species a fighting chance.  As part of the Whitebark Pine Friendly Ski Area Certification, we have committed to protecting and preserving the White bark pine found at Kicking Horse through education and conservation initiatives.

RCR is inclusive. Harassment and discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated.
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