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Informing implementation of the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee’s (GYCC) Whitebark Pine (WBP) Strategy based on climate sciences, ecological forecasting, and valuation of WBP-related ecosystem services

Principal Investigator(s): 
Cathy Whitlock and Andrew Hansen, Montana State University
GYCC WBP Subcommittee: Karl Buermeyer (Bridger Teton NF); Kristen Legg (NPS I&M); Dan Reinhart, (YNP). GYCC: Virginia Kelly (Executive Coordinator). USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center: Greg Pederson. Great Northern LCC: Tom Olliff (Co-coordinator). NPS I&M: John Gross, Bill Monahan. University of Montana: Helen Naughton (Economics Dept.). Montana State University: Virginia Iglesias, Todd Kipfer (Institute on Ecosystems); Nathan Piekielek (Ecology Dept.); Elizabeth Shanahan (Political Science Dept.).

This project helps to inform implementation of the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee (GYCC) Whitebark Pine (WBP) subcommittee’s “WBP Strategy” based on the climate science and ecological forecasting. Using this research, we are: 1. Forecasting ecosystem processes and WBP habitat suitability across the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA) under alternative IPCC future scenarios; 2. Improving understanding of possible response to future climate by analyzing WBP/climate relationships in past millennia; 3. Developing WBP management alternatives; 4. Evaluating the alternatives under IPCC future scenarios in terms of WBP goals, ecosystem services, and costs of implementation; and 5. Drawing recommendations for implementation of the GYCC WBP strategy that consider uncertainty. WBP is a keystone and candidate endangered species that has undergone high levels of mortality related to climatic warming. The GYCC WBP Subcommittee has developed over the past decade a strategy for WBP in the GYA, but without adequate information on climate change. The subcommittee is participating in this project because of their high interest in using climate science to enhance implementation of the strategy. Ecosystem processes and WBP habitat suitability are being forecast under downscaled future scenarios to 2100 with existing funding. Paleo data from GYA is being used to quantify WBP/climate relationships over the past 15,000 years and growth rates during extreme climate events over the past 800 years. Four WBP management alternatives are currently being developed in a workshop at the NCCSC RAM, consistent with the GYCC WBP Strategy. These alternatives will be evaluated relative to WBP status (viability and ecosystem function), costs of implementation, and public valuation of change in ecosystem services using conjoint analysis and public surveys. Recommendations will be derived in a scenario planning workshop based on both the results and uncertainty in the results. These recommendations can thus be immediately acted upon by the GYA management community and the approach and methods will be readily applicable to the several other tree species that are undergoing die-offs under changing climate.

More info on the NCCWSC project page