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Restoring an endangered tree species in the mountains of British Columbia

In British Columbia, the majority of species at risk are found in low elevation areas where most private property is held. Most conservation properties held by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) are also found in these low elevation zones to protect high quality habitat for species at risk, among other things. An exception to this trend is the Darkwoods property, which is the largest private conservation property in Canada. Darkwoods covers 136,000 acres (55,000 hectares) in the West Kootenays and extends from the shore of Kootenay lake up to rugged peaks of the Selkirk Mountains.

Whitebark pine is an endangered tree species that is found at the highest elevation forests at the tops of the mountains in Darkwoods. It is a keystone species that produces very large seeds that are eaten by more than two dozen different bird and mammal species, including grizzly bears. Whitebark pine is threatened by a non-native disease called white pine blister rust, as well as mountain pine beetle and a changing climate.

Within Darkwoods, between 80 and 95 percent of all mature whitebark pines have already been killed by mountain pine beetlse over the past 15 years, and about 65 percent of the remaining trees have been infected by white pine blister rust and are slowly dying.

The very large size of the Darkwoods property provides a rare opportunity to work to restore whitebark pine on a landscape scale. With funding from the Columbia Basin Trust and the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk (a program run by Environment Canada to contribute to the recovery of endangered species), we have been working on restoration efforts here since 2011.

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