Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) is a slow-growing and long-lived keystone species of the upper subalpine zone capable of tolerating harsh, exposed conditions near treeline.
Three factors have played a role in the decline of the whitebark pine in the Crown of the Continent ecosystem: white pine blister rust, fire exclusion, and mountain pine beetles. Scientists are concerned that the continuing loss of whitebark pine may be responsible for the broad ecosystem–level consequences such as changes in watershed hydrology, which could lead to faster snowmelt and increased soil erosion; decrease in whitebark pine seeds, a critical food source for grizzly bears; and the potential population decreases in Clark’s nutcracker, the primary disperser of whitebark pine seeds.
Ongoing inventory and monitoring programs are in place in the Crown of the Continent ecosystem to better understand the extent of the whitebark pine decline and resulting impacts on other species. Work collecting seeds from blister rust resistant whitebark pine is ongoing and many young trees have been grown and planted to try and replace declining whitebark pine stands.