The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week their proposal to list the whitebark pine as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This effort aims to bolster new and ongoing conservation actions for the species’ pine recovery so these unique trees, and the many plants and animals they support, continue to endure for future generations.
As a threatened species, protections for whitebark pine would include prohibiting the removal of whitebark pine on federal lands and prohibiting whitebark pine import, export and activities related to interstate and foreign commerce. Federal forest management, restoration or research-related activities would not be prohibited, allowing for optimal, flexible and adaptive forest activities that could advance whitebark pine conservation now and in the future.
Following this proposal announcement, Governor Gordon has expressed concern about a proposed “threatened” status listing for whitebark pine and thanked the U.S. Forest Service for the timely release of the Thunder Basin National Grassland Plan Amendment for prairie dog management.
Whitebark pine is a high-elevation species found in Wyoming that is an important food source for wildlife. It is currently threatened by a non-native fungal disease called white pine blister rust. The USFWS has not found any human activities to be major threats to whitebark pine. The proposed rule protects operations, including grazing and logging, under Section 4 of the ESA (also known as a “4(d) rule”). In addition, the proposed rule does not propose any critical habitat designations.
“While the inclusion of a 4(d) rule is encouraging and avoids undue burdens for private landowners and businesses, any listing under the ESA is concerning,” Governor Gordon said. “Wyoming always seeks to avoid the need for listing and will remain committed to working with our federal partners to approach species conservation in a pragmatic manner.”
The US Forest Service also released the Final Record of Decision for the Thunder Basin National Grassland Plan Amendment for prairie dog management. This marks the end of an approximately 18-month planning process for this project.
“I remain appreciative of the Forest Service’s attention to urgency on this matter and adherence to the timeline they laid out at the beginning of the process,” the Governor said. “This is an important plan for Wyoming. It is an intersection of maintaining ranching communities and species conservation in a patchwork of surface ownership. I thank the Forest Service for the continued inclusion of my office and the state agencies throughout this process.
As both of these federal actions move forward, the Governor’s Office and state agencies will continue to be involved and monitor any further developments.
A notice in the Federal Register will be published by the Service announcing the 60-day public comment period on December 2, 2020. The Service will consider comments from all interested parties received by February 1, 2021. Comments may be submitted electronically at www.regulations.gov by searching under docket number FWS–R6–ES–2019–0054 and clicking on the “comment now” button. The Federal Register notice provides information on how to comment by other means.