The Future of White Pines in the West

By Nicolas Apodaca, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

For many Utahns, white pines are a fact of life. Different species of white pine fill the mountainous landscapes of the Intermountain West, and their distinctive cones dot the forest floors. Yet compounding threats caused by changes in climate and forest management are putting these trees at risk.

That’s where Dr. Diana Tomback, professor and associate chair in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of Colorado Denver, comes in. Her innovative research on different species of white pine throughout the West is building hope for their survival. On Tuesday, April 2nd, she will discuss this pressing issue in her lecture, “Biodiversity catastrophe in real time: Loss of five-needle white pine communities and cascading consequences” as part of the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s Seminar Series.

Professor Tomback received her Ph.D from the University of California Santa Barbara, where she researched the role of Clark’s nutcracker in the dispersion of whitebark pine seeds. She has spent much of her career at the University of Colorado Denver, studying white pine populations throughout the Rocky Mountains.

In 2001, Tomback was a founding member the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation, which brought together federal officials and scientists to discuss and address threats to the Whitebark Pine alongside grassroots-level organizers and activists. She served as the Founding Volunteer Director for 16 years and now coordinates policy and outreach at the foundation. She is also Lead Scientist in the National Whitebark Pine Restoration Strategy, a federal initiative to restore white pine ecosystems.

Tomback’s work today focuses on a group of five pines, known as five-needle white pines. As she emphasizes, “forest health is now a major concern in North America.” White pines play an essential part in the forest ecologies of the American West and are among the tallest and oldest living trees in the world. They have also long been economically important as a historical source of lumber. “We have changes in fire regime driven by climate change, climate change itself, and on top of that, globalization has brought about an exchange of pests and pathogens from around the world for which our species [of white pines] have little natural resistance,” says Tomback.

There are many challenges facing the white pines in the 21st century. “Warming climate has supported the outbreak of the mountain pine beetle,” explains Tomback. They are also threatened by imported tree diseases such as white pine blister rust, which was unintentionally imported to North America from Asia. Blister rust is particularly dangerous because it spreads rapidly through spores carried by the wind, and because there is little natural resistance.

Yet despite these threats, Tomback has hope. The Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation, the Fire Sciences Lab in Missoula, her own lab at the University of Colorado Denver, not to mention many other concerned organizations, are contributing to the development of restoration and prevention strategies. Her hope is that new strategies will take advantage of declining beetle numbers and innovative research to preserve these important trees.

If you’re interested in learning more about Professor Diana Tomback’s innovative research on white pines and the future of the West’s forests, come by ASB 210 on Tuesday, April 2, from 4 – 5 PM for her GCSC seminar series lecture, “Biodiversity catastrophe in real time: Loss of five-needle white pine communities and cascading consequences.”

 

HUMANS OF THE U: MARTIN CUMA

Originally posted on @theU on February 8, 2019.

“I’ve enjoyed bicycling since I was a kid, back in the Czech Republic. It provided the freedom to move around without depending on either public transit or my parents. When I moved to Salt Lake in 1998 for my postdoc it felt natural to continue riding. I save on a parking pass and car costs and it forces me to get up on my bike every morning and ride to work.

Our older daughter is 5, and she goes to the Child and Family Development Center here on Presidents Circle. We have been commuting together for about 3 years. We ride my old road bike and a used $200 Chariot trailer. When it is warmer, we switch to the Weehoo. It takes us about 25 minutes to get up here, about three miles.

Weather doesn’t impact our commute much. It’s all in the equipment. In the winter, I dress our daughter in snow pants and a warm jacket. I wear what you see in the picture with an extra sweater for the downhill ride home.

I consider myself a fearless bicyclist but riding with a kid, I’m much more aware of my surroundings. I am very sensitive to people giving us space, so please don’t pass us too close on 1500 East or Guardsman Road or block the bike lane or crosswalk.

It is a commitment to commute by bike. Sometimes I think that it would be much easier to sit in a car and drive. Still, the benefits outweigh the troubles. My exercise is that 30-40 minutes a day ride. Our daughter will grow up used to car-less transport. And I feel like I’m doing something for the common good. I see the lines of cars every morning and I wish at least a few of them would hop on a bike. That would help our air and make the streets less busy and more livable.”

—Martin Cuma, computational scientist, Center for High Performance Computing. Cuma is part of the majority of U commuters that live within a reasonable walking or biking distance to campus. Active transportation, such as biking, represents 13 percent of commuting trips. Source: U. Office of Sustainability

Invert the Inversion

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, campus engagement, Sustainability Office

It is hard to ignore Salt Lake Valley’s poor air quality this winter unless you’ve figured out how to shut your eyes and mouth and plug your nose (or you haven’t gone outside at all). Views of our mountains, the Wasatch and Oquirrh ranges, are at times completely obscured by the smog surrounding us. That tickle in the throat could be a virus or it could be a reaction to inhaling the pollution hovering over the city. Neither are good options.

But wait, there is good news. We can reduce the particulate matter choking our healthy air by making different choices—particularly when getting from point A to point B. For the month of February, join the university’s Clear the Air Challenge team and help invert the inversion. Improve air quality (and be eligible from some cool opportunity drawing prizes from GREENbikeCotopaxi the Campus Bike Shop and more).

Now in its 10th year of friendly competition, Utah’s Clear the Air Challenge encourages people to take fewer trips, and the U is the reigning champion. Did you know that mobile sources, including our cars, are responsible for nearly half of the fine particulate matter on our wintertime poor air quality days? By using TravelWise strategies—including walking, biking, riding transit, carpooling and more—we can cut transportation-related emissions. Through collective action, by changing the way we travel we can make a big difference.

In 2018, the challenge saved an estimated 386 tons of CO2 or the equivalent of the emissions from nearly 45 million smartphones charged. By logging your alternative transportation trips on the online dashboard or through the brand new mobile app, you can track your contribution to emissions saved, plus see your dollars saved and calories burned in comparison to driving alone.

Automate your commute trips

For the first time in its history, the Clear the Air Challenge now connects with two different apps. The first app, Commute Tracker by RideAmigos is specifically designed to work with the challenge to log a user’s commute data. Find a step-by-step guide to connecting the app with your Clear the Air Challenge account on the university’s sustainability website.

The second app is Strava, a free fitness app particularly popular with cyclists and runners. Strava connects with any GPS-enabled device and tracks and analyzes personal health information. Ginger Cannon, active transportation manager for the U, said, “I use Strava because I can track every activity I do, including my active commute to work. Strava can also help connect you to a virtual community of like-minded people–for example, there is a commuter group you can join to meet others who bike or walk to the university.”

Who can participate?

The Clear the Air Challenge is for everyone. Sincerely. Even friends and family are welcome to join the University of Utah team. There are so many different ways to engage in reducing emissions from transportation. Obvious options include riding transit and shuttles, bicycling, and walking—even if it is just walking to a nearby meeting instead of driving.  Even those who need to drive have options, including skipping trips by bringing lunch from home and trip chaining by doing multiple errands in a row to avoid vehicle cold starts.

Together we can clear the air. Join the team and let’s get started.

The university’s Clear the Air Challenge participation is managed by the Sustainability Office, with support from ASUU, Commuter Services, University of Utah Health, Real Estate Administration and University Marketing & Communications. The Clear the Air Challenge is a partnership between TravelWise, UCAIR and the Salt Lake Chamber.