Group sues US Fish and Wildlife for failing to protect whitebark pine

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The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a lawsuit against the US Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to list 11 critically endangered species under the Endangered Species Act , including the whitebark pine found in Montana.

For years, whitebark pine has been attacked by two natural threats, including blister rust, a deadly disease spread by the wind. Whitebark pine is also plagued by beetle mortality, which has increased due to climate change.

Whitebark pines are a species of tree found at high elevations, near the edge of the woods. However, they provide food and habitat for other threatened or critical species such as grizzly bears or Canadian lynx.

Basically, the USFWS agrees with the Center for Biological Diversity that whitebark pine and 10 other species scattered throughout the country are endangered and because of it, face a very real threat of extinction. . However, the lawsuit alleges that instead of enacting protections for the species, the federal agency appears to be in an indefinite holding pattern.

But scientists and advocates say the agency can’t wait without likely dooming the species.

Whitebark pines are smaller trees essential to an alpine ecosystem threatened by climate change. In addition to blister rust, warming temperatures mean that beetles that can attack many types of trees go through two life cycles per season, which means their destruction is magnified, said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity. . Cold, hard frost also helps kill and reduce beetle populations, but with warmer winters and less frost, the beetle population thrives and takes entire forests with it.

“These trees and the animals that depend on them are literally being pushed off the top of the mountains,” Greenwald said.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service does not comment on ongoing litigation.

The whitebark pine is part of a trial that includes other species such as the round hickorynut, Puerto Rican sunfish, and Suwannee alligator snapping turtle.

Whitebark pine is widespread in northern and northwestern states including Montana, Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Wyoming, and Nevada.

Blister rust was an introduced disease and the tree has few defenses. Greenwald said scientists are trying to find trees that have shown disease resistance and create resistant varieties. But, with dwindling populations and climate change, it’s a race against time, he said.

Greenwald said the agency was slow to respond, first acknowledging the problem in 2008.

And, history shows how some trees, once abundant, can almost disappear. For example, Greenwald said chestnut trees dominated the eastern part of the United States, only to be nearly wiped out by an introduced disease.

He said that once the Fish and Wildlife Service determines that a species should be protected, a recommendation made by following science, he said the law gives the agency one year to formally take action, but that this action has stalled.

Greenwald said that in recent administrations the number of species needing protection has increased, largely due to climate change, but listings have slowed. He said part of the problem is massive bureaucracy and low budget.

It highlights 66 species that the federal government has not acted on in 2021. The Endangered Species Act states that listing species and critical habitat requires a process of less than two years, but the Center for Biological Diversity said it took the federal agency 12 years to act. The CBD has 47 extinct species waiting to act.

“We constantly have to sue to get the federal government to follow the endangered species law,” Greenwald said. “FWS has a terrible bureaucracy in place to make these decisions where there are often 20+ people deciding this instead of just listening to the best science available.

“Scientists are sounding the alarm that we are in an extinction crisis and that they should be leading efforts to save species, but seeing them miss deadlines and dragging their feet is frustrating. Saving species is their mission.

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