With concern growing over decreasing numbers of whitebark and limber pine, Waterton Lakes National Park staff is taking steps to ensure both species recover and thrive in future. Cyndi Smith, conservation biologist for Parks Canada at Waterton, says the numbers of whitebark and limber pine have been severely reduced in both Canada and the U.S. by many factors, including white pine blister rust, mountain pine beetle, climate change and a history of fire suppression in the park.
To combat the decrease in numbers, Smith says seeds are currently being collected from trees which appear to be resistant to blister rust. This is achieved by fastening specially-designed cages around the cones preventing consumption by predators, until cones mature and the seeds can be retrieved.
“The issue for us is that as we have fewer seed-producing trees, we have to augment that by planting seedlings ourselves.” Smith says seeds gathered are used by the Alberta Tree Improvement Centre to grow seedlings which are returned to Waterton for planting. As well, some seed is donated to the University of British Columbia’s seed bank.