High on top of a mountain, you may find a lone Whitebark Pine tree standing on the land against strong winds, heavy snow, and the icy cold. This species of Pine tree is tough. Some facts about the tree are that they can live to be a thousand years old, grow up to 20 meters tall, produce egg-shaped cones, and their needles grow in clusters of 5.
Whitebark pine trees are found in the subalpine areas of Banff National Park. As a keystone species, it provides food and living space to animals, strengthens mountain slopes, and maintains snow cover. This provides water to other plants and prevents flooding during the spring snowmelt.
Whitebark pines produce some of the most nutritious seeds in the Banff National Park. These pea-sized seeds, full of fat and protein, are eaten by bears, squirrels, and birds like Clark’s Nutcracker.
Due to factors such as blister rust, climate change, the Mountain Pine Beetle, and fire suppression efforts the tree is now considered a species at risk In Banff National Park.
Some of the best spots to see this tree in Banff include Cascade Mountain, Molar Pass, Mount Norquay, Bow Lake, Parker Ridge, Corey Pass, the Lake Louise Ski Resort, Sulphur Mountain, and Mount Rundle.
Check out this video from Parks Canada about how the Whitebark Pine tree and the Clark’s Nutcracker depend on each other for survival as the tree provides nutritious food for the birds and the tree relies on the birds to open their seeds from the pinecone and then sow them into the land.
All is not lost for this rare species of the Pine tree as Parks Canada is actively working on a recovery strategy here in Banff. Actions of the strategy include scientific monitoring, collecting and preserving seeds, testing seedlings for disease resistance, educating the public as well as local businesses about the importance of conservation, active restoration, and land management with conservation as a priority. As shared in this tweet Parks has also been busy planting disease-resistant trees throughout the park.
Check out the article below from Parks on how to find more information on how they are working to restore this tree and its importance as a keystone species in Banff National Park.