The Mountain Pine Beetle Adds to Deforestation Issues

Deforestation is an unfortunate reality that continues to take place in our world today. Forestry industries around the world desperately need an intervention that removes them from the financial aspect and gain of the business world, and rather educates them on the damage and destruction they are causing. Sometimes forestry jobs are needed to certain reasons, but an emphasis should be placed on educating and promoting more sustainable and responsible uses of necessary resources. We, as a country, should be implementing eco-friendly practices so that our natural resources don’t continue becoming waste products. Nevertheless, forestry practices aren’t the only things people do that affect the health and life of our forests.

With excessive consumption and increase of pollution, global warming is becoming more and more prevalent. Climate change is real and, whether or not it is a natural process, the majority of experts agree that our activities could very well be contributing to a faster rate of changes on the planet. Everything from rising temperatures to increased greenhouse gases feed this phenomenon, and if you were to travel to the forests of Western North America, the effects of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere can clearly be seen. Trees are dying at an alarming rate and not because we have been overharvesting them, but rather due to a small beetle: the mountain pine beetle.

This beetle is a bark beetle “native to the Western forests of North America, stretching from Mexico to central British Columbia.” This tiny bug produces a blue fungus and introduces it into the sapwood in order to prevent the tree from both deploying its natural defenses and preventing water and nutrients from getting into the tree. Following a successful attack from a mountain pine beetle, a tree will go from vibrant green to red, a key indicator that the pine tree is dying or dead. Once the tree turns gray, it is completely dead and the beetle moves on to another tree.

In the past, outbreaks caused by these beetles have been naturally controlled by the seasonal temperature changes. Cold winters and mild summers have always been a means of population control, and the pine beetle was seen as playing a key role in the life of the forests, attacking old and weak trees and enabling younger trees to succeed.

However, thanks to warmer seasonal temperatures, the current outbreak (considered to have officially begun in 1996) has been and continues to be particularly devastating to the forests in North America, especially in British Columbia and the Western States. “Over 40 million acres” of lodgepole pine forest have been destroyed in British Columbia alone, according to the province’s website, and it is estimated that, as of May 2013, “roughly 88 million acres of forests in BC and all 19 Western States, collectively, have been destroyed by the blight of the pine beetle.”

Fortunately, there is a silver lining to this story. Since the risk for forest fires has increased due to the large number of dead trees, attention is being turned towards opportunities in the bio-energy industry to study the beetle’s blue fungus. The blue-stained wood of the dead pines has also been utilized in the design industry, too, so the trees have not completely gone to waste.

 

Learn more about the mountain pine beetle and its effects on deforestation:

Mountain Pine Beetle

 

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-Photo Credit: Ashley L.

 

-Written by: Inés de Sequera