Whitebark pine, Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Photo Credit: Erin Shanahan, National Park Service.

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The whitebark pine is a high elevation tree species that has been dying off so fast and over such a large expanse of public land that it qualifies for the endangered species protection. The loss of this scrubby tree has cascading effects as animals and birds are rapidly losing a critical food source in its seeds and the possibility of flooding increases without its roots to keep the soil stable and the water flow steady.

This tree species is not only far from the typical charismatic species that garner fundraisers and wide public support, its trees also do not stay confined within political boundaries. In the Greater Yellowstone Area, its range crosses National Parks, National Forests, Bureau of Land Management lands, and wilderness areas. To manage for this critical yet little known species across boundaries, land managers want to know what people think about different management strategies – ranging from doing nothing, to protecting from further loss, to trying to restore where it has died.

In a survey of residents in states surrounding Yellowstone, both liberals and conservatives show support for both protection and restoration of this important tree species. While the support is slightly lower for wilderness areas that have stronger regulations for management activities, there is generally high levels of support to do something to protect and restore the whitebark pine. While survey respondents report spending a fair amount of time recreating on public lands, it is those who have some knowledge of the threats to whitebark pine (like white pine blister rust and mountain pine beetle) who support active management.

While support for active management is a non-partisan issue, continued educational efforts of the effects of climate change on whitebark pine is important to maintain public support for this little seen species.