Thursday, June 19, 2008



NPR's Bryant Park Project touched briefly today on the latest environmental disaster to hit the west: a pine beetle invasion. You might think that pine beetles aren't such a big deal, but I used to work at the Forest Service, and the sheer amount of research done on various types of these beetles is mind-boggling. A mountain pine beetle is attacked by one of its natural enemies

Such an invasion can kill trees in large areas and mess up the lumber supply. BPP interviewee Elise Thatcher says that the lodgepole pines in Colorado are at an age (80 years) that is tastiest to pine beetles, and warmer temperatures in the area mean that there are fewer cold snaps which used to control beetle populations.
According to Thatcher, the Forest Service has announced that most of the trees will be decimated by this invasion.
What could have prevented it? Thatcher suggested, and I agree, that had there been a campaign of controlled burning previously, the outbreak may have been more manageable. Many pine ecosytems are fire-dependent. That means that they work best with occasional large-scale fires, which control underbrush buildup and kill pests like pine beetles. But because we are so scared of catastrophic, uncontrollable fires (and for several other reasons) the best we can do is imitate natural fire cycles with controlled burns.

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