July 9, 2009
Due to warmer temperatures, mountain pine beetles are devastating whitebark pine trees in the Northern Rockies. Whitebark pine is a keystone species, its seeds are a critical food source for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), and the disappearance of whitebark pine from the GYE will have catastrophic consequences for GYE grizzlies.
That we know.
What we don’t know is how severe the whitebark death in the GYE is. And that’s about to change, thanks to a collaborative effort funded by the U.S. Forest Service. Leading the project are Dr. Jesse Logan, distinguished entomologist and former head of the beetle research unit for the United States Forest Service at the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Logan, Utah, Wally Macfarlane, skilled geographer and an expert in the use of GIS and digital photogrammetry, and talented EcoFlight pilot Bruce Gordon. The project’s staffers are expert kayaker and adventurer Willie Kern and college students Dena Adler and Colin Peacock.
This summer, the team will fly several flight lines over the entire GYE. A cameraperson will be on each side of the plane taking photographs at evenly spaced intervals, and GPS points will track the photographs. Each photograph will be classified from 0 to 5, depending on the beetle damage to the whitebark pines in the photo (with 0 being a healthy whitebark forest and 5 a dead whitebark forest). The end result will be a categorized photographic map of the status of whitebark pine in the GYE.
For more on what was found on a recent reconnaissance hike through B Bar and adjacent lands, click here.