Endangered Species
Mountain-Prairie Region

WHITEBARK PINE

Whitebark Pine Trees Whitebark Pine pinecone
Photos by Richard Sniezko

Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) is a 5-needled conifer classified as a stone pine which includes five species worldwide. 

Stone pines are distinguished by large, dense seeds that lack wings and therefore depend upon birds and squirrels for dispersal across the landscape.

Whitebark pine is typically found in cold, windy, high elevation or high latitude sites in western North America and as a result, many stands are geographically isolated.  It is a stress-tolerant pine and its hardiness allows it to grow where other conifer species cannot. 

Whitebark pine is considered a keystone species because it regulates runoff by slowing the progress of snowmelt, reduces soil erosion by initiating early succession after fires and other disturbances, and provides seeds that are a high-energy food source for some birds and mammals.

The species is distributed in Coastal Mountain Ranges (from British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, down to east-central California) and Rocky Mountain Ranges (from northern British Columbia and Alberta to Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Nevada).  

Whitebark pine is ecologically very significant in maintaining snow pack and regulating runoff, initiating succession after fire or other disturbance events, and providing seeds that are a high-energy food source for many species of wildlife. 

Recent Actions: July 18, 2011:  We have determined the whitebark pine warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but that adding the species to the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants is precluded by the need to address other listing actions of a higher priority.

We will add the whitebark pine to the list of candidate species eligible for ESA protection and review its status annually. If we propose the whitebark pine for listing in the future, the public will have an opportunity to comment.  We have assigned the whitebark pine a listing priority number (LPN) of 2, which means we have determined the threats are of high magnitude and are imminent.

Threats to the whitebark pine include habitat loss and mortality from white pine blister rust, mountain pine beetle, catastrophic fire and fire suppression, environmental effects resulting from climate change, and the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms.

Whitebark pine is experiencing an overall long-term pattern of decline, even in areas originally thought to be mostly immune from the above threats. Recent predictions indicate a continuing downward trend within the majority of its range. While individual trees may persist, given current trends the Service anticipates whitebark pine forests will likely become extirpated and their ecosystem functions will be lost in the foreseeable future. On a landscape scale, the species appears to be in danger of extinction, potentially within as few as two to three generations. The generation time of whitebark pine is approximately 60 years.

Past Actions:

Last updated: April 10, 2014