Climate change forces grizzlies to hunt for food elsewhere—and die in higher and higher numbers

To understand how climate changes can affect entire areas in ways that most humans might not notice, all one must do is look at the whitebark pines in the Yellowstone area. For over a hundred years, whitebark pines have taken a beating. Disease, overcrowding, and outbreaks of mountain pine beetles have threatened the pines for over a century to varying degrees. Climate change and warmer winters have meant more and more mountain beetle outbreaks—as extreme cold used to help with killing off such outbreaks. In 2009, over 3,000 square miles of whitebark pines were destroyed in a beetle outbreak. Why does this kind of deforestation matter? Animals need those whitebark pines for a healthy ecosystem. Animals like grizzly bears.

Grizzlies eat the food caches left by squirrels in the whitebark pines. No pines means no squirrel caches of food, which means grizzlies have to move on. Grizzlies have been moving into human-inhabited areas, more and more in order to survive. According to the Missoula Current, 2018 saw the highest number of grizzly deaths in years, 51. The top two reasons: grizzlies hit by cars crossing highways or eating roadkill, and interventions by state wildlife agencies, needing to euthanize grizzlies who have wandered dangerously into areas where people like to camp and live.

Conservationists have tried to get the pines put under federal protection for decades, finally getting the pines put on the “priority” list in 2011. But according to High Country News, whitebark pines have stayed on that “priority” list without real federal protection since due to a lack of funds. 

The reason came down to a funding shortage: listing whitebark pine as endangered would have required the agency to devote resources to saving it. Without enough money to care for all disappearing species, the agency focuses on listing species that are part of legal settlements, for example.

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