Losing Our Pine Forests

There have been so many harbingers of climate change, that it’s time to call them something else. How about repercussions? We’ve had dying bats and bees, disappearing species, melting ice caps and now, out of control bark beetles. According to a recent NPR report, trees are dying from bark beetle infestations at an alarming rate. Particularly at risk are the coniferous forests of the American Southwest, which stay green for about a year after the trees have died and then turn red and yellow as the trees suddenly decay.

Because winters are not as cold, pine beetle larvae are thriving with winter thaws producing an extra generation of beetles. According to Dr. Diana Six at the University of Montana, in addition, beetles are cold blooded and develop at the rate of temperature, so warmer temperatures mean faster development and greater survival. To compound matters, trees are stressed by draught and environmental toxins, so their natural defenses against bark beetles, such as resin production, are not functioning properly. And the beetle populations have been growing so rapidly, that they have outpaced natural predators like woodpeckers.

According to Gary Severson, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, bark beetles can kill 90 percent of an area’s lodge pole pines, having already killed off more than 1.5 million acres in Colorado in the past 10 years. The results are devastating to forests, rivers and streams, which are naturally cleaned by these trees, and add to the size and duration of the wildfire season. Not to mention that dead trees re-emit the CO2 they have captured.

Colorado’s governor, Bill Ritter, believes that lodge pole pines could be completely wiped out in three – five years if the beetles continue unabated.

To confront the problem, Governor Ritter has assembled a coalition of state and federal advisors to address the bark beetle epidemic and to look at the decline of aspen trees. One option is to provide the trees with synthetic pheromones to mimic those that occur naturally to fight off the beetles. This is a costly solution, at $10 a tree and unfortunately, treats the symptom and not the real cause of the disease. Dying bats and bees, unprecedented virulence of forest fires, hurricanes that wipe out entire cities and now disappearing pine forests. What will it take for us to address climate change with the urgency it deserves?

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  • Posted on March 17, 2008. Listed in:

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