University of Alberta research finds pine beetles, exotic fungus endanger iconic high mountain pines

Called the jewels of the forest, Alberta’s iconic whitebark pines are on death watch.

Often hundreds of years old, they prefer the cooler climate of the mountains — and are found at higher elevations throughout the Rocky Mountain national parks and beyond. A keystone species in the high mountain ecosystems, their “pine nut” seeds are an important food for squirrels, bears and the Clark’s nutcracker bird.

Sadly, about 60 per cent of the spectacular trees are already either dead or infected with an exotic fungus called white pine blister rust, which arrived on eastern white pine seedlings imported from France into Vancouver in 1910.