September 12, 2011

Recipe for Whitebark Pine Success

Do you have an interest in gourmet food?  Do you care about nature?  Of course you do!  Which is why the whitebark pine deserves your attention.  This tree is found at windswept treeline locations in the Rockies (that's the nature part), and at this time of the year, it produces cones full of high fat pine nuts (that's the gourmet part).  They are not the same species of pine nut that we eat, but Clark's nutcrackers, red squirrels and even grizzly bears love them, and as a result, stands of this little known tree are biodiversity hotspots.

Unfortunately, whitebark pines are in trouble, having been hit hard by both mountain pine beetle and a non-native fungus called white pine blister rust.  In the US, the species has met all the criteria for being listed as an endangered species, but because the Fish and Wildlife service is so strapped for cash, they have refrained from putting the tree on the endangered species list.

So why not support both nature and the gourmet feeding habits of our local wildlife?  Shell Canada has a grant program  for environmental projects across the country and is currently running an online voting campaign to decide which grants they'll fund.  There are lots of proposals in the running, but only the top vote-getters will receive money, so to cast your ballots for one of North America's most amazing trees, go to:

The site requires you to submit an e-mail address and a very limited amount of info, but if you jump through their hoops, you earn ten votes that you can apply to a good cause.

September 2, 2011

A Plethora of Pikas

On virtually every hike we've taken this week, there has been a plethora of pikas preparing for winter!  Their cute faces peer out from rocks everywhere you turn.

It’s been a good summer for pikas, one of the Rocky Mountain’s most unique creatures.  This diminutive member of the rabbit family — it looks like a hamster — inhabits rock piles in the high country.  They don’t hibernate, but remain active under the rocks and snow.  To survive, pikas collect grasses and leaves for winter food.  Studies estimate that a pika will make about 11-12,000 trips to amass their stash!

Like a farmer, the pika turns its harvest into “hay” by drying it out and storing it under large rocks.  Pikas are built for cold temperatures and this week, someone has turned a switch on the weather.  In one week we've gone from late summer to full-on fall.  Now that it has cooled down, pikas have become very active laying in their stores for the challenging winter to come.