The three remaining native Monterey pine forests in the world are found on the Central Coast, with the largest, in Monterey County, occupying habitat at the north end of the Santa Lucia Range in the Carmel Highlands and Point Lobos area as well as the greater Monterey Peninsula.
Because of serious threats to the survival of the pine and the 36 endangered or special status plants and animals that it supports, the Monterey Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society has submitted an application to the State Fish & Game Commission to list the tree (Pinus radiata) as a Threatened Species. The state definition of Threatened is: "Although not presently threatened with extinction, it is likely to become an endangered species in the foreseeable future in the absence of special protection and management efforts..."
California's native Monterey pine forests are diverse and rich habitats that have evolved over millions of years of changing climatic and ecological conditions. These forests define the landscapes of the Monterey Peninsula, Cambria and Año Nuevo regions (two small, atypical stands are also found on islands off the coast of Mexico). The beauty and biological values of Monterey pine forest habitat are prized by scientists, visitors and residents alike. In addition, the pine forests serve as the genetic repository for a multi-billion dollar forest products industry in New Zealand, Australia, Chile and elsewhere in the world. It is also one of the most widely planted landscape trees in the world.
In the last few years an incurable disease has appeared that threatens to destroy the endemic forest as well as the planted trees. Pine pitch canker, an introduced fungal disease, is expected to devastate the remaining native populations of Monterey pine by reducing the tree population 85% or more. About half of the historic range of the pine has already been lost to development.
A recent letter from a New Zealand researcher said that the native stands are the "ultimate genetic resources" containing "genes that are not represented in domesticated stocks" that "provide opportunities for evolving resistance to diseases and pests that have not reached New Zealand...we see the species potential for evolving resistance as being alarmingly compromised by the urbanization at Monterey-Carmel and Cambria.."
If the proposed listing of Monterey Pine as a State Threatened species is evaluated on the basis of the scientific facts presented, this effort should be successful. However, politics plays a big role in these decisions, and developers are mounting an all-out campaign to halt the listing and even to delist the Federal Endangered Species, Yadon's rein-orchid (Piperia yadonii). The Fish & Game Commission referred the petition on Aug. 9 to the Deptartment of Fish & Game, which has 90 days to decide if the petition is complete and has sufficient merit to be named a Candidate (Nov. 9). If it is so designated, its status will be studied for the next year before a final decision is made. But simply being named a candidate should bring it additional attention, protection, and funding.
Readers of this article are asked to write individual letters of support to the California Fish & Game Commission, 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA 95814 with copies to your legislators and to CNPS, c/o Box 381, Carmel Valley, CA 93924. Special thanks to Jon Libby who has already written for the Ventana Wildnerness Alliance. Thanks to all who can help with this very important issue.