Ten years ago, Tannis Dakin noticed the trees surrounding her lodge were beginning to die.
“It’s easy to think of protecting grizzlies and caribou. It’s harder to think about trees,” she said.
Dakin has owned and operated Sorcerer Lodge, near the northern boundary of Glacier National Park for roughly 30 years.
Over the years, she said it’s common for a tree’s health to fluctuate. One year, Dakin thought they were going to lose the surrounding hemlocks, but they bounced back the following season.
“But that isn’t happening with whitebark pines. They are not coming back.”
According to the B.C. government, the tree is endangered.
|Ten years ago, Tannis Dakin noticed the trees surrounding her lodge were beginning to die. (Photo from Parks Canada)|
Whitebark pines have a special relationship with the Clark’s nutcracker. The bird uses its specialized beak to open cones, remove seeds and bury them for winter meals. If forgotten, the seed germinates into a sapling. The cones are also food for grizzly bears.
The whitebark pines surrounding Sorcerer Lodge are thousands of years old and up to two metres across.
“They’re like citadels,” said Dakin.
According to the B.C. government, the greatest concern for the tree’s survival is from a fungus called white pine blister rust, which is native to China and was accidentally introduced to North America in 1900. Since its spores are transported by the wind, it gets everywhere.
The Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation is a non-profit that promotes the conservation of whitebark pines. On Nov. 21, the organization recognized Sorcerer Lodge as the first whitebark pine friendly ski area in Canada.
According to the foundation, the lodge has supported whitebark pine recovery for over a decade by hosting biologists, educating guests, developing maps, recovery projects, and contributing funds to recovery efforts.
|Parks Canada have climbed, caged, and harvested 645 whitebark pine cones from 14 trees surrounding Sorcerer Lodge. (Photo from Parks Canada)|
Parks Canada stays at Sorcerer Lodge as they research surrounding whitebark pines. Biologists climb trees which appear to be resistant to the fungus and cage its cones, protecting them from the nutcrackers.
“The summer when all the cones were caged, the clarks were very noisy. They weren’t happy,” said Steve Conger, another owner of Sorcerer Lodge.
Afterwards, the cones are sent to a nursery for germination and testing to see if they are resistant. They can later be grafted or planted.
Between 50 to 80 per cent of the whitebark pines surrounding Sorcerer Lodge are infected with blister rust.
Although the tree is endangered, outside the parks there are no laws protecting whitebark pines.
According to the Ministry of Forests, since the tree occurs mostly above harvestable logging stands, there is no need to place restrictions on logging whitebark pine.
Regardless, the province said it’s working on a recovery plan.
Other threats to whitebark pine include mountain pine beetle, fire and climate change.
In 2018, Lake Louise Ski Resort was fined $2.1 million for recklessly cutting down the endangered tree. The Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation said the ski resort has approached the foundation, interested in also becoming a whitebark pine friendly ski area.
|According to the B.C. government, the greatest concern for the tree’s survival is from a fungus called white pine blister rust, which is native to China and was accidentally introduced to North America in 1900. Since its spores are transported by the wind, it gets everywhere. Since fungus also attracts rodents, which further weaken the tree. (Photo from Parks Canada)|
The foundation said ski resorts play a vital role in whitebark pine recovery as they provide access for people to whitebark pine habitat, since it’s a high elevation tree.
Dakin said it’s our duty to protect whitebark pine.
“We brought this on them. It’s a human-introduced problem.”
However, whitebark pine grows extremely slow.
“If you plant one whitebark pine, it won’t be old enough to have seedlings before you die.”
Restoration will take time.