I Speak for the Trees
by JDAC Mountie on October 31, 2015 - 12:14am
Everyone loves a good walk through the woods. For the people in B.C. and Alberta, however, it's becoming a little less Into The Woods and a little more the ending of The Lorax. All because of one little bug, as described in the article The Bug That’s Eating the Woods.
The Mountain pine beetle loves lodgepole pines; some might say they love them to death. Due in part to warming climatic variations and in larger part attempted human control of the environment, pine beetles have been experiencing a population boom that every mature pine in North America has felt. In the last fifteen years alone, over forty-four million acres of pine forests have felt the runaway train effects of the pine beetle spread. In Canada, the beetle has skipped from B.C. to Alberta and Saskatchewan and the fear is that the next jump will be to the Boreal forest and any thought of containment will be out the window.
The two main reasons that the pine beetle is in an unprecedented time of growth are both due to human factors. First, increasing global greenhouse gas emissions have created a slightly warmer environment for the beetle. Gone are the harsh winters that kept the beetles’ population in check and a longer summer grants more time for the beetles to spread between stressed trees.
Alberta's Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Recourse Development has cut down over one million trees in the last ten years in an attempt to control the disaster. This type of reactive management has been seen before. In the 1950s, American Elm were all but wiped out in the Eastern U.S. in an attempt to control the spread of Dutch Elm Disease. This practice was a failure, as it resulted in wiping out all the Elms that had immunity to the disease (Hunt 2010). The species is still struggling to bounce back today. The American Elm should serve as an omen to the Albertan government. The mass extermination of tree stands that are infected with the pine beetle also eliminates the pines that are resistant to the invaders.
Canada’s aggressive stance on forest fire management is the other reason pine beetles are in their prime. Forest fires are not always a bad thing: they renew ecosystems and keep the balance of biodiversity in check. In some countries, fires are used effectively in agriculture to add soil nutrients. Here, they represent a threat to one of our biggest resources. The economic strain from the hurting forestry towns is felt more and more. Canada has a staples economy, heavily reliant on its natural resources, including forestry. It is this importance on logging that has mostly led to the huge annual budget for fighting and controlling forest fires in the West. This type of command and control management has led to a false sense of security by the forestry industry. Fewer forest fires increased logging exports, to the satisfaction of the provincial governments, but the unforeseen result of the less frequent fires was the proliferation of mature pine trees: the very definition of a pine beetle’s nirvana. One hundred years ago only 17% of pines in B.C. were considered ripe for beetles. That number soared to over 50% in the 1990s and has continued to grow. Now forests are being decimated and the logging community is shouldering the brunt of the effects.
The government faces a choice when it comes to pine beetle management. Any economy that is so heavily reliant on natural resources threatens to fall in the staples trap, an economic-type Armageddon resulting from a complete financial dependency on natural resources by a country. If Canada wishes to avoid this, a shift away from our forestry industry is needed. Let forest fires that do not threaten the public run their course, do away with monoculture and bring back the varied forest ecosystems that are more resilient to pine beetles.
Something has to change, so that people can grab their thneed and head outdoors to enjoy Canada’s forests for a long time to come.
Image from Google
Rosner, Hillary. "The Bug That’s Eating the Woods." National Geographic, April, 2015, 96-115. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/04/pine-beetles/rosner-text
Hunt, Lori. "Bring Back the American Elms." The Portico, 2010. http://www.uoguelph.ca/theportico/elms/