Sep 3, 2013 - The Associated PressJACKSON -- Biologists say a bad year for whitebark pine cone output could lead to more hunter-grizzly bear conflicts in northwest Wyoming this fall.
Officials say whitebark pine cone output has fallen off by 84 percent this year. The pine cones are an important food source for grizzlies before the winter.
Wildlife biologist Frank van Manen said the average cone count per tree dropped from 33 cones last year to just 5.2 cones per tree this year across the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.
Because whitebarks grow at high elevations, they help keep grizzly bears separate from hunters in lower elevations.
But with the low crop, wildlife managers say there will be increased grizzly activity in the lowlands this year.
Whitebark pine has been identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a candidate for endangered species status. The agency says threats to the tree include habitat loss, pine blister rust, mountain pine beetle, catastrophic fire and fire suppression, environmental effects resulting from climate change, and "the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms."
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