Not satisfied with a lower-court ruling favoring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, two environmental groups are filing an appeal asking that whitebark pine be listed as an endangered species.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and WildWest Institute filed with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals after a lower court judge ruled that the USFWS hadn't done anything wrong when it decided not to list the whitebark pine as a threatened species.
In July 2011, the agency determined that whitebark pine forests have enough threats, such as climate change, to warrant listing.
However, the USFWS was not abusing its power or being arbitrary when it decided other species have a higher priority for listing, said U.S. District Judge Dana Christiansen of Missoula in his April 25 ruling.
The USFWS has identified more than 260 species that qualify for Endangered Species Act protections but are yet to be listed.
In their appeal filed Friday, the two groups asked the appeals court to declare the decision to delay listing as illegal and to order the agency to list the whitebark pine by a set date.
“The FWS has already found that whitebark pine trees are going extinct due to global warming,” said Mike Garrity, AWR executive director. “Whitebark pine seeds are an important food source for grizzly bears in the greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. We are going to keep fighting to keep whitebark pines from going extinct because Yellowstone grizzly bears are so dependent on them.“
The U.S. Forest Service estimated that climate change would result in the whitebark-pine population shrinking to less than 3 percent of its current range by the end of the century.
However, the Forest Service still has proposals to clearcut whitebark pine stands, Garrity said.
When whitebark pine trees were more numerous, grizzly bears' diets could be as much as 75 percent pine nuts, said whitebark pine expert Jesse Logan.
But since 2005, pine beetles and white blister rust, a fungus, have been decimating whitebark pine forests in the greater Yellowstone area, especially at lower elevations.
2009, 95 percent of the stands had some infestation. As a result, stands in 18 of 22 mountain ranges in the greater Yellowstone area are nearly gone.
Some scientists say that grizzly bears have historically sought out high-fat whitebark-pine nuts as an autumn food source but are now adapting to use other foods as whitebark pine trees die out.