When is a tree more than a tree?
When it is the seedling of an endangered White Bark Pine, grown from an expensive and difficult to harvest seed.
While the Fort St. James area is at the northern limit of the White Bark Pine range in North America, pockets of the rare tree do still exist, and will for awhile if Joanne Vinnedge has anything to do with it.
Vinnedge, a local biologist with the Ministry of Environment, worked on a cone collection along with the Ministry of Forests back in 2007, collecting seeds to help preserve the species.
They collected 145,000 seeds from a stand of White Bark Pine on Mt. Sidney Williams to go into the provincial seed bank.
Before being put in the bank, some seeds are grown to test the viability of the seeds, and normally, these seedlings would then be thrown away.
However, with the expensive and arduous nature of the collection of these seeds, the seedlings in this case were instead given out for planting, and Vinnedge made sure to get some for the local area.
She was given 150 trees to plant, about one hundred of which have been put on Murray Ridge, at the east end of the ski hill tenure, and she will be planting more in September, but now there are a few right in Spirit Square.
“I wanted to plant a couple downtown so that we could start to raise awareness of the presence of a locally endangered species,” said Vinnedge.
There will be signs marking the trees planted in the park soon, for the public to learn about the species, which can be distinguished from Lodgepole Pine by the number of needles in each bundle on the branches.
Lodgepole Pine has only two needles in each bundle, while White Bark Pine has five needles per bundle. White Bark Pine is also a subalpine species, so it grows at higher elevations, and the bark is actually white.
The tree exists locally in some sizable stands around the Takla Range and up in Mt. Blanchet Provincial Park at Takla Lake.
The species is a poor competitor with subalpine fir, according to Vinnedge, and its tenuous hold on survival is made even more so by a dependence on the Clark’s Nutcracker for its regeneration.
The tree produces large and highly nutritious seeds which feed many animal species, including the Clark’s Nutcracker, which harvests and caches the seeds in large numbers.
The bird can remember up to 20,000 locations of these caches, but the seeds the bird leaves in these caches will then germinate.
Unfortunately, because of this closely linked relationship with the bird, any impact on the Clark’s Nutcracker numbers in the area could then further jeopardize the recovery of the White Bark Pine population.
Fire suppression is one of these factors, because burned areas are better habitat for Clark’s Nutcrackers and if an area doesn’t burn for a long enough time period, subalpine fir will eventually outcompete the pine.
The White Bark Pine is also being impacted to a large degree by an introduced blister rust which is a tree disease, and also by the Mountain Pine Beetle.
This species grows only in British Columbia and Alberta in Canada, going up the Rocky and Coastal Ranges at subalpine elevations. In the lower 48 of the continental United States, the tree is also very threatened, and is predicted it will disappear from its range there in the next one hundred years.
“So it’s a species that’s in pretty big trouble, right now,” said Vinnedge.
Because this pine is not a commercially valuable species, it is not being replanted in logged areas either.
While recently assessed as endangered by the federal organization the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, the federal government now has to decide whether or not to officially list it as endangered.
Then it would join the Nechako White Sturgeon as a local endangered species.