Sometimes, it’s hard to imagine anything could take root in the places where limber pines grow. Gnarled and seemingly stunted by the sparse soil and almost constant wind, these trees have withstood drought, fire and the harshest of winters. Their size often belies their ages – more than a century for some. Yet, despite their hardy nature, limber pines may be in trouble.
Drought and climate change, insects and introduced white pine blister rust have all taken a toll on the trees--so has suppression of natural fire that helps them regenerate. The Nature Conservancy has been restoring fire to limber pines at Pine Butte on the Rocky Mountain Front, but it’s not enough. In order to conserve these iconic trees, we need to better understand what’s happening to them across the entire landscape. We need to investigate how they’re responding to stresses such as climate change and the absence of fire.
The Conservancy has joined forces with state and federal scientists to find answers to these questions. We’re focusing on low-elevation stands that are near the extreme range of the trees. That puts these limber pines on the front lines for impacts from climate change and drought. Results from the multi-year study will provide crucial information that will help us decide how best to protect and restore these trees that are so much a part of our beloved Rocky Mountain Front.