Guest Post: Beetles are Thriving and Trees are Dying

by Jamie Grant

Connect with her @jamie.grant526

Currently an epidemic rages, killing off some of the most helpless living things on our little planet. Trees, beautiful and majestic, are helpless when it comes to avoiding predators, especially when the predator is the Pine Beetle.  The Pine Beetle had been munching its way through pine trees in the Western United States and moving northward into Canada.  When the Pine Beetle moves through the trees, they turn to brownish-red and loose their green color.  The trees are dying and entire pine forests are meeting a grim fate. 

Pine beetles are not an invasive species.  They're natural habitat is forests in North America.  In fact, it's not news that they are behind large swaths of forest dying.  However, since the 90s, this little bug has been damaging trees more than ever before.  As humans work to prevent forest fires - and to stop forest fires from spreading - the pine beetles' populations soar.  Naturally, as the number of pine beetles increases, the threat to forests becomes greater.  We may soon see over 60 million acres of forests killed.  These beautiful trees are dying - and though that may be enough to break hearts of environmentalists and natural lovers - the dying trees have major effects on the planet and creatures that live here.  Ecosystems are being disrupted and animals that use these trees as a source of shelter and food are being harmed.

The main question remains: Why are the beetles devouring pine trees at such an exponential rate?  The answer is simple: humans.  We have no one to blame but ourselves.  As is common with environmental problems, humans are the villains in this story.  The increase of global warming has given the beetles more opportunities to wipe out forests - stressing trees, and expanding the beetles' range into new territory.  As humans contribute to the warming of our planet, the beetles are thriving and forests are dying.  

When a pine tree is healthy, it has defenses to keep beetles out, or at the very least, kill the bugs before the tree is overtaken.  However, as the temperatures rise the trees are becoming increasingly unstable - and this is causing the trees defenses to be weakened.  Just like an army, the beetles can take over the tree more easily when the tree is weakened.  This combination of weakening trees and a mean bug (clearly I have a bias towards trees) is deadly to our pine-y friends.

In the human world, if there is an epidemic, a quarantine would go into effect.  This would separate people infected with the disease, keeping them from exposing others.  However this tactic is a bit harder when entire forests are involved.  There have been some suggestions to burn the beetle infected parts of the forest, trying to keep the beetles at bay.  Some areas are considered “holding zones” and is really the only way to “quarantine” or try to curb the growth of the problem.  It is becoming hard to combat these little bugs, because they are not all the same.  These beetles are varied in their characteristics, and evolution has made some groups better equipped for dealing with certain geographic conditions.  There cannot be one generalized solution, when each group of pine beetles has different characteristics.  Forest services has stated that there is no “fix” to this problem.  Though there may not be a solution, Forest Services are doing everything they can to mitigate the impact.  The Pine Beetle is proving a tough opponent for pine trees as well as the humans determined to protect the trees.

Though there may not be a clear way ahead, and no magic cure for the suffering trees, it is clear that increasing temperatures is making the problem worse.  This is just another example of why humans need to take the necessary steps to decrease climate change. People often forget that their actions can effect the smallest of creatures; and in this case, a very tiny bug that can kill an entire forest.  Our actions as humans directly effect our planet, and it is our job to take every step that we can to minimize our torment on the planet.  If we can make a change to save at least one tree, that is our responsibility.

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