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Ursus arctos horribilis, man and the whitebark pine

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Things are getting confusing in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Again.

While there is no question that warming issues are impacting the whitebark pine by allowing the mountain pine beetle to inch-worm his way into higher elevations to infest the delicate pine ecosystem, questions are being raised as to how the tree’s resulting lower cone output is impacting human and grizzly interaction. The big brown bruins nosh on the seeds to pack on the ell-bees for winter.

Backpacker.com just published this brief piece on the matter, suggesting that cone shortage is certainly increasing the number of grizzly-human hook-ups. A recent incident in Cooke City, MT, just outside Yellowstone’s northeast entrance (an absolute incredible section of the park) certainly supports the essay’s argument. It also quotes a member of the U.S. Geological Survey as saying that it’s time to stock up on your supply of Counter Assault.

However, this piece in the Jackson Hole Daily last week suggests otherwise. The idea of increased run-ins is certainly a concern, but the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee went on the record thusly:

“We have not detected an impact of the loss of mature whitebark pine on the grizzly bear population.”

Nevertheless, WY Fish & Game has detected an uptick in encounters when cone output is low.

Not unlike the ongoing debate about wolf re-introduction and its endangered species status (seriously), I think what we have here is another wilderness controversy without a whole lot of clarity on either side. Thankfully, the middle ground is stable, and on it rests the certainty that climate change has created a dire situation for the whitepark pine. Help fight it here.

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