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March 01, 2006

Beetle Battle

Beetle_trees_3From the Washington Post, an article worth reading on a subject that's depressingly well-known to Canadians, but probably unfamiliar to most Americans: the mountain pine beetle outbreak devastating forests in British Columbia. The damage has been colossal:

Surveys show the beetle has infested 21 million acres and killed 411 million cubic feet of trees -- double the annual take by all the loggers in Canada. In seven years or sooner, the Forest Service predicts, that kill will nearly triple and 80 percent of the pines in the central British Columbia forest will be dead.

Meanwhile, the beetle is moving eastward. It has breached the natural wall of the Rocky Mountains in places, threatening the tourist treasures of national forest near Banff, Alberta, and is within striking distance of the vast Northern Boreal Forest that reaches to the eastern seaboard.

Foresters and researchers agree that the principle culprit is global warming (because warmer winters, even by a few degrees, have not been severe enough to kill the native beetle and supress its now-exponential population growth). So the pine beetle infestation is worrisome, not only for the severe ecological impacts, but also because it appears to be an early sign of the devastation to be wrought by a warming atmosphere.

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Comments

Isn't this really two environmental tragedies (or possibly three) in one?

Warming stops die-off of the beetles. Zero-tolerance to forest fire magnifies the problem. And finally, but perhaps most importantly, monoculture forests present them with easy meals and a huge potential path of destruction.

Still, as an example of how a few degrees do matter, it's an important if very costly lesson. One hopes the lessons haven't come too late.

Posted by: Jason | Mar 1, 2006 12:51:47 PM

do the colleges not study beetles or is there no professionals qualified to solve beetle infestation? Ray Gould 562/903-8900

Posted by: Ray | Mar 2, 2006 1:48:41 PM

Colleges do study this issue.

Beetle infestation in single trees is not usually a problem.

The problem is *scale* - there are, literally, hundreds of thousands of acres to treat. A near impossibility to contain. The old CCC programs to control *Berberis* for blister rust is a good corollary, Ray. All you can do is survey and add to the total.

Posted by: Dan Staley | Mar 2, 2006 2:44:37 PM

Remember the devastating Southern California wildfires of 2003? Much of the destruction that took place within the San Bernardino National Forest (east of Los Angeles) was attributed to recent droughts, lack of regular deforestation and a bark bettle infestation, which killed thousands of trees making them ripe for wildfire conditions.

Posted by: gedward | Mar 2, 2006 7:39:50 PM