Whitebark pines ailing but don’t get protections

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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says a high-elevation pine tree devastated by disease, beetles and climate change warrants greater protection under the Endangered Species Act.

But the agency said Monday it will not immediately list the whitebark pine tree as threatened or endangered because of higher priorities and a lack of funding.

Environmentalists had sued the government earlier this year in hopes of garnering greater protections for the trees.

Whitebark pine nuts are an important food for threatened grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park. The trees can live up to 1,000 years and thrive in conditions considered too harsh for most trees.

Yet in recent years stands across the West have been devastated by the mountain pine beetle, a fungus known as blister rust and warmer temperatures.