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BILLINGS, Mont. -- A federal judge has ruled against conservationists who sought to force the government to protect a high-elevation pine tree whose nuts are a food source for threatened grizzly bears.

The Wildwest Institute and Alliance for the Wild Rockies sued after the government designated in 2011 that protections for the whitebark pine tree were warranted, but precluded by other priorities.

U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ruled on April 25 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designation leaves species such as the pine tree in limbo. But he declined to overturn the government finding, saying it's up to Congress to allocate enough money to pay for protections.

Whitebark pine are found in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, California, Oregon, Washington and western Canada. Canada listed the tree as endangered in 2010.

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