The government is too strapped for cash to prevent the “imminent” extinction of a critical member of the Rocky Mountain forests, the Obama administration has determined. On Monday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that global warming pollution is causing the spread of the pine bark beetle and white pine blister rust into the the once-cold Rockies, killing off the whitebark pine in staggering numbers. However, because of budgetary limits, the service said it would defer instituting any attempt to save the trees:
The Fish and Wildlife Service determined Monday that whitebark pine, a tree found atop mountains across the American West, faces an “imminent” risk of extinction because of factors including climate change. The decision is significant because it marks the first time the federal government has identified climate change as one of the driving factors for why a broad-ranging tree species could disappear. The Canadian government has already declared whitebark pine to be endangered throughout its entire range; a recent study found that 80 percent of whitebark pine forests in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem are dead or dying. The Natural Resources Defense Council asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to place the tree on the endangered species list. In its determination, the agency said that it found a listing was “warranted but precluded,” meaning the pine deserved federal protection but the government could not afford it.
There are now 265 candidate species waiting for protection — or until their extinction eliminates the urgency.
The whitebark pine has been in decline for decades. Protection requested over 10 years ago, in February 1991, was rejected in 1994. Since then, the collapse of the species, which sustains the entire ecosystem from nutcrackers to grizzlies, has been “dramatic and catastrophic.”
Our ability to be responsible stewards of the planet is likely to get even worse, thanks to the Tea Party. “This month, the House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee voted to eliminate any funds for listing species under the Endangered Species Act as part of the 2012 budget,” the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin notes.