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David McIntyre responds to nutcracker article

Posted April 12, 2011

Attn: Elise Stolte

Your article, flagged here, appeared in the Calgary Heraldhttp://www.calgaryherald.com/technology/Evolutionary+quirk+help+save+endangered+Alberta+trees/4117332/story.html

I read your article with interest due to a long love-affair with limber and whitebark pines, and as a result of hard-won seed collection for both species. The seeds were gathered to undergo somatic embryogenesis: attempts to clone seed stock resistant to the deadly white pine blister rust pathogen.

Addressing your article, there's much that I might add. For example, SRD actively authored the destruction of southwestern Alberta's whitebark pine forests until very recently, cutting and burning these ancient trees -- some, perhaps, more than 1000 years old -- to replace them with lodgepole pines. More recently ('09), the same department, spinning on its heels and then racing in the opposite direction, declared the whitebark pine and limber pine endangered species.

Before these two tree species achieved "endangered" status, I tried to have Alberta's western white pines (another five-needle pine) declared endangered as well, an outcome that did not occur. The western white pine is far rarer on the Alberta landscape than the two named endangered species, and similarly susceptible to white pine blister rust (and mountain pine beetle infestations). As a result, the forests where these (and other) exceedingly rare-in-AB tree species exist, while phenomenally rare and vulnerable, have continued to be clearcut. 

This logging, based on my personal knowledge, has resulted in the subsequent and inadvertent death of approximately one-half of the western white pines that I've discovered. Stated another way, approximately 50% of the known population of western white pines in Alberta has been killed by logging operations.

The western white pine is very rare in Alberta. So, too, are naturally occurring ponderosa pines and western redcedars, species that also occur within this same rare and threatened southwestern AB forest ... Alberta's rarest, most diverse and most threatened forest community. 

Canada's easternmost western redcedars, ponderosa pines and western white pines occur within the headwaters of the Crowsnest River valley, a landscape that continues to be clearcut. The adjacent Castle River valley, while not as rare in terms of forest diversity, is richer and rarer in terms of overall plant diversity, and it, too, is scheduled to be logged.

You might wish to pass the information I've shared with you on to Vern Peters (named in your article), other interested members of the science community, other individuals and/or use it to write a parallel article.

There exists, I believe, a strange irony: The public, acutely aware of the mountain pine beetles' impact on the lodgepole pine, doesn't have a clue that the lodgepole pine, as a species, is doing just fine (until it gets old and vulnerable). Meanwhile, lost on the landscape and unknown to the collective mind of the populace, Alberta's ancient forests of limber pines and whitebark pines, and its few western white pines, are dying a sudden, tragic and wholesale death due to an introduced-from-Europe pathogen of sinister proportions. 

This loss will cascade out onto the surrounding landscape to impact many things, including, as your article describes, Alberta's threatened grizzlies.

Best wishes,
David