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Tag: Limber Pine threats

Limber Pines: White pine blister rust is the greatest threat facing this iconic species of southwestern Alberta’s mountains and foothills.

Thin green line: teaming up to save limber pines

Imagine driving to Beauvais Lake Provincial Park or west along Highway 3. Now imagine that only one in every 10 limber pines remains. “Alberta is at risk of losing nearly 90 per cent of its healthy limber pines in the next 100 years,” says Jodie Krakowski, Whitebark Pine Ecosystem of Canada director.

White pine blister rust is the greatest threat facing this iconic species of southwestern Alberta’s mountains and foothills. The fungus (Cronartium ribicola) that causes the disease was introduced into North America a century ago and has spread widely since. This devastating disease is fatal to all except a few naturally resistant trees. These trees are rare though.

Conservation specialists from government departments and agencies, non-profit organizations and industry have identified hundreds of the very best wild trees with natural disease resistance in Alberta to become a genetically diverse, well-adapted foundation for recovering this endangered species. 

The limber pine faces a range of other threats, too. Climate change, mountain pine beetle, human development, and increasing fire size and intensity after decades of suppression all add insult to injury in the fight to hold the thin green line.

Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

If these trees are lost, ripples will be felt throughout the ecosystem. Their absence will impact plants and animals throughout the landscape.

Limber pine seeds are a vital food for squirrels, bears and birds, including Clark’s nutcracker, a jay which relies heavily on the seeds to garner energy for successful breeding.

Shade from limber pines slows snowmelt in the mountains, sustaining and cooling streamflow in important fish habitat. The tree roots anchor fragile, steep soils against heavy rains and wind.


Also read | Wildfire safety procedures from AltaLink


Protection and restoration efforts are underway to reverse the decline of this unique species. Organizations like the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation of Canada, Parks Canada and the Government of Alberta are working together to support the limber pine and ecosystems they call home, and these efforts must continue long into the future.

Krakowski notes that a seed planted now takes 50 years to start producing its own seeds, so restoring limber pine ecosystems will take generations.

The core of the Government of Alberta Recovery Plan  is to build up natural genetic disease resistance, so more and more trees survive blister rust and spread their resistant seeds.

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Trained teams find these rare trees. After climbing to the treetops to collect cones, scientists send the precious seeds to get tested for disease resistance. The winners, or most resistant seedlings, become the parents of future generations of seedlings grown in nurseries and planted in carefully selected sites. 

Provincial forest health staff help protect high-value trees where mountain pine beetles are a high risk. Partners also update maps of where limber pine grow so development projects can better avoid impacts. 

Take action

What can you do? First, report limber pine on your land through apps like iNaturalist to help improve the maps.

Needles grow in bunches of five and are three to nine centimetres (one to four inches) long. Trees are often bushy with upswept branches and are up to 15 metres (50 feet) tall, but sometimes they grow along the ground or as low shrubs in very windy sites.

Oblong-shaped cones are eight to 13 centimetres (three to five inches) in length, turning from green to brown and opening when ripe. 

Deter cattle from grazing in limber pine stands if you can. These areas typically provide poor forage, and seedlings and saplings can’t survive heavy traffic or compacted soils.

Drift or wire fencing can guide animals along existing pathways toward better forage. Salt blocks and water can direct cattle to other areas for grazing and shade.

If cattle need to use limber pine areas, grazing a maximum 25 per cent of yearly forage production is recommended.

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Waterton Biosphere Region will be partnering with WPEFC to offer two workshops on beneficial management practices for grazing in limber pine stands, on June 12 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. (Beauvais area) and July 16 from 9 a.m. to noon (Waldron area).

Contact Thomas to register for a workshop.

For more information about the species and ongoing recovery efforts, check out limber pines.