Montana environmental groups sue to protect whitebark pine

2013-01-17T05:50:00Z 2014-08-13T18:50:07Z Montana environmental groups sue to protect whitebark pineBy ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian
January 17, 2013 5:50 am  • 

A pair of Montana environmental groups have accused the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of stalling efforts to give federal protection to whitebark pine trees, which are disappearing from the northern Rocky Mountains.

“Whitebark pine isn’t on their radar, as far as the commitment it’s going to take to maintain or recover it,” said Steve Kelly, a board member of Alliance for the Wild Rockies. That group joined with WildWest Institute to sue FWS Director Daniel Ashe and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in Missoula District Court on Tuesday.

The lawsuit complaint notes that the Great Bear Foundation first sought federal Endangered Species Act protection for whitebark pine in 1991. The request was denied in 1994. The Natural Resources Defense Council made another application for protection in 2008. That set off a back-and-forth debate that wound up with FWS declaring whitebark “warranted but precluded” from protection in 2011.

The group’s legal brief also states that while FWS committed to finishing reviews of 155 candidate species by 2016, the agency didn’t include whitebark, even though it had a higher priority status than many of the other species. The brief accuses the agency of abusing its discretion by working on other species while claiming it didn’t have enough money to add whitebark. It also cited a 9th U.S. Circuit Court ruling that declared whitebark declines as the only reason it could not delist grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

“People who spend time in the high country realize that whitebark pine are dying at alarming rates due to impacts associated with climate change,” WildWest’s Matthew Koehler stated in an email. “We cannot sit back, do nothing and watch a critically important component of our high-country ecosystem just disappear and go extinct before our eyes. This isn’t just about the whitebark pine, but about the future viability of these high-country ecosystems, including the species that rely upon that habitat such as grizzly bears and Clark’s nutcrackers.”

Whitebark pine trees grow at high elevations and are generally considered unprofitable for logging. Mature trees produce protein-rich seeds that grizzly bears and other animals feed on.

Over the past century, a fungus known as blister rust killed a huge percentage of the trees. In the past decade, mountain pine beetles have started attacking the remaining stands. Changing snow and temperature patterns also have reduced its viability. It’s now estimated to occupy about 3 percent of its former habitat.

Alliance for the Wild Rockies had previously sued the U.S. Forest Service over logging whitebark stands without considering the ecological consequences in the Helena National Forest. Kelly said the group wanted federal agencies to put more effort into helping whitebark survive, instead of letting it disappear by neglect or mismanagement.

FWS officials did not have a response to the lawsuit on Wednesday.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(14) Comments

  1. old farmer
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    old farmer - January 18, 2013 9:31 am
    The comment from Elk Guy, pointing out the road kill skunks sums it up.
  2. MontanaTaxPayer
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    MontanaTaxPayer - January 17, 2013 10:39 am
    There are extremists at both ends of any topic and a large majority in the middle. Political discrimination involves extremists convincing the uncommitted majority to join a side, using lies, half-truths and omission, pretending to be “reasonable.”
  3. jr2jr2
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    jr2jr2 - January 17, 2013 9:31 am
    Roger - Exactly right. Also there are more grizzlies in the ecosystem in MT than are needed, so many that the younger grizzlies have to roam far and wide to set up their own territory, and then get in trouble. . Wonder how all those grizzlies that live in areas w/o Pine nuts survive?? Evidently they don't need pine nuts. These extreme enviro groups will not be happy til they shut down ALL forest, oil, gas, and coal jobs in MT !!!! The EPA and endangered species act are nothing but economic terrorism
  4. T-Bone7
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    T-Bone7 - January 17, 2013 8:36 am
    As an employee of the Forest Service, I can tell you that the White Bark Pine is indeed in trouble.The FS has been trying to get the tree listed for several years. It is just too bad that it had to come to this lawsuit to get something done about it.The FS is trying to raise more resistant to disease trees, but it takes time, a lot of time. I don't particularly like these enviro groups any more than you do, but at least maybe now the WBP can get some help. And as usual, you only hear part of the story in the press.
  5. Roger
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    Roger - January 17, 2013 7:31 am

    What a farce - climate change has been occurring naturally for millions of years. The grizzly bear population has increased significantly from what it was not so many years ago, but are these eco-freaks happy? No, they've got to keep suing, and using taxpayer money to do so. Congress should repeal that crazy law immediately.

  6. RPT
    Report Abuse
    RPT - January 17, 2013 6:26 am
    Not all that hard to figure out what any of these groups real agenda is... Just follow the money.
    With the right lawsuit and a hand picked friendly activist judge any of their lawsuits could turn into million$ in returns for their group.. Like it did with the wolf.
  7. elkguy
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    elkguy - January 17, 2013 4:44 am
    What will those idiots think up for their next lawsuit? Will somebody please repeal the Equal Access to Justice Act before they sue the highway dept. for allowing vehicles to run over skunks? These groups are way out of control, making money hand over fist with these ridiculous lawsuits.
  8. Sukey
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    Sukey - January 17, 2013 4:02 am
    Missoulian, please let us know not only the groups doing the suing, but the lawyers names filing all these lawsuits. I'm not opposed to not logging whitebark pine to help the grizzlies stay chubby, but this lawsuit seems extreme, as if its nothing more than keeping these groups names in the news for donations. The trees are dying, they've been dying for decades and I believe the Forest Service is trying to develop, or has developed a hybrid substitute tree which doesn't fall prey to the blister rust.
  9. Drummer
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    Drummer - January 16, 2013 10:42 pm
    Oh, I'll bet these environmentalists can't tell the difference in the flavor of a roasted white spotted owl or a California Condor:-)
  10. Mad Dog Mike
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    Mad Dog Mike - January 16, 2013 10:42 pm
    We have around 1000 grizzlies in Region 1 do these bears exist as we do not have much whitebark pine..makes you wonder if the bears are smarter than what these enviros give them credit for...EH?
  11. Mad Dog Mike
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    Mad Dog Mike - January 16, 2013 10:40 pm
    yeah and all the dead lodgepole pine stand because they all hate logging, and mining, and ranching, and trapping, and hunting..
  12. GaryTinkSanders
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    GaryTinkSanders - January 16, 2013 10:37 pm
    I am sure they would sue mother nature if she had money, that's why they sue the government "Equal access to Justice Act" (Slush fund for 501(C) corporations.)
  13. Bandit218
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    Bandit218 - January 16, 2013 9:42 pm
    Trees die naturally too. So if it is "climate change" what do you suppose they do. These groups blow enough hot air to reduce climate change single handily.
  14. AAO22
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    AAO22 - January 16, 2013 9:24 pm
    Alliance for Wild Rockies is ridiculous. Why don't they just sue Mother Nature?

    Funny how a couple years ago Mike Garrity, director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies stated that he "doesn’t believe the picture is as dire as some press reports have said" regarding beetle killed Lodgepole and Ponderosa pine forests over by Helena ...which encompasses millions of acres of dead and dying trees.

    Oh but the Whitebark Pine is in dire straights...

    Typical activist group...favoring one species over another to suit their agenda needs, like always.

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