Granting federal protections to the tree is a “watershed decision,” said Diana Tomback, professor of integrative biology at the University of Colorado at Denver who has studied the tree for decades.
The whitebark pine’s habitat spans over 80 million acres across seven states and Canada. In its official filing, the agency acknowledged that rising temperatures are pushing the high-elevation tree’s habitat up to higher altitudes, hurting the chances of survival for a pine whose nutritious seeds provide sustenance for everything from red squirrels to black bears.
“It’s found over the largest geographic area of any other tree listed,” she added.
The decision to declare the tree endangered due to climate change is an unusual one for an administration that often dismisses that threat.
“It tells you how significant and obvious the threat is,” said Rebecca Riley, legal director of the nature program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which first petitioned for the pine to be protected in 2008.
The tree is also a key food source for grizzlies that raid pine seeds stored by squirrels when bulking up for winter. Giving threatened status to the pine could complicate efforts to remove grizzly bears around Yellowstone National Park from the endangered species list.
In 2017, wildlife officials said the bear had recovered. But a federal judge in Montana reversed that decision the following year.
The listing may also have implications for loggers who would have to work around the protected pine on U.S. Forest Service land. About 88 percent of the tree’s range in the United States is on land managed by the federal government.
Several other factors weigh against the long-term survival of the species.
The trees are vulnerable to a foreign fungal infection, which took root in North America a century ago, as well as to native beetles that burrow into the bark of pine trees.
And more frequent and ferocious fires — themselves fueled by climate change — are also scorching the pine and its habitat.
Declaring a species endangered without designating critical habitat for it is “just inconsistent with the Endangered Species Act,” said Riley with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
But the Fish and Wildlife Service said doing so was “not prudent” in this case because “the primary stressor” for the pine is the fungus — not habitat loss.
“A cynical view might be that they pushed this listing forward to dictate how this listing happens,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, noting that Joe Biden will become president next month.
Trump is looking to support mining through a loan program the administration had previously tried to nix.
The Energy Department announced Tuesday that it would give preference to projects involving the mining of critical minerals for an existing loan program meant for clean energy. The move is part of a broad push by the Trump administration to expand domestic production of minerals such as lithium, chromium, cobalt, helium and vanadium, Bloomberg News reports.
“The loan program