UNITED STATES — The National Park Service (NPS) and American Forests announced Monday that the two agencies had signed a five-year agreement to restore whitebark pine ranges in the mountain west.
Efforts will be focused in Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Teton National Parks, where direct seeding trials will be implemented. Planting seeds directly in the ground instead of planting greenhouse-grown seedlings might prove to be a cost-effective and low-impact restoration method, according to the agencies.
“The National Seed Strategy spotlights how successful native plant restoration starts with having access to the rights seeds,” NPS Director Chuck Sams said in a statement. “Our agreement with American Forests will enable the collection of seeds from drought and disease resistant whitebark pines and ultimately help us to restore these trees in national parks.”
Whitebark pine is considered a keystone species for high-elevation ecosystems, providing food through its seeds for more than 19 animal species including grizzly bears, according to the announcement. Whitebark pine forests also regulate the flow of snowmelt supplying downstream watersheds, contributing to the health of streams and rivers. It was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in December of 2022. The agencies estimate that more than 325 million whitebark pine have been lost across North America.
“This agreement is a pivotal step toward preserving the biodiversity and health of whitebark pine and its vital ecosystems,” said Brian Kittler, forest restoration lead with American Forests. “National parks are not just places to be enjoyed for their beauty and history, they also harbor vital habitat for the whitebark pine and other species in decline.”
In Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, projects will focus on drought and disease-resistant whitebark pine trees to research possibilities for climate-resilient forests.
Funding for these projects comes from the Inflation Reduction Act. The full National Whitebark Pine Restoration Plan is expected to be released later this fall. It was developed by American Forests with the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation, the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, Department bureaus including the Bureau of Land Management and NPS, and numerous Tribal land managers, per the announcement.
Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff visited Grand Teton National Park in August to highlight the $44 million investment in the park service implemented by President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, intended to strengthen ecosystem resilience, restoration and environmental planning needs to address climate change impacts.