Okay, so this is going to be a bit of rant, bear with me.

There is an extinction level threat going on in the pine trees of the rocky mountains right this second, and nobody is talking about it. From the Yukon down to Nevada, trees are being killed at a positively frightening pace. The culprit? The mountain pine beetle. Usually, when you see one species killing off another at such an alarming rate, it is because the killer is an alien invasive species, but this case is interesting because the mountain pine beetle is actually endemic to the region. Under normal conditions, the MPB helps the ecosystem by killing off weak or sick trees, leaving canopy space and dead biomass for new trees and other flora to grow into. This keeps a forest healthy by preventing stagnation. The way this is supposed to work, is that the MPB is able to smell certain compounds emitted by a tree in distress, are attracted to it, and consequently attack it. Therefore, it is relatively common historically for epidemics of these beetles to break out after severe weather events, particularly hard seasons, fires, or other environmental stressors. Some of these epidemics were even quite serious. This one, however, is different. It is already TEN TIMES worse than any before it, and it’s not stopping.

Can you guess the culprit? Motherfucking climate change. The climate is getting warmer on average, staying warmer longer, and getting warmer at higher elevations than ever before. The trees aren’t happy with this, and while they could live with it on their own, the chemical distress signals they are sending out are their own death bells. Because it is warmer at higher elevations, the beetles are killing trees at these higher elevations. Because the beetles are killing trees at these higher elevations, the beetles are spreading to the eastern face of the mountain range for the first time ever. Because the beetles are on the eastern face of the mountain range for the first time, they have millions of tons more of biomass to kill.

This epidemic is serious, and scientists and policy-makers alike are looking into ways to stop it. Most foresters, ecologists, and environmental scientists are in agreement that it can’t be stopped, and the best thing to do is to let it run its course and hope there are still some pine trees left in the end. Policy makers, on the other hand, influenced (of course) by the logging industry, would like to clear-cut huge swathes of forest, to try to create boundaries that the epidemic cannot cross. Sounds like not a terrible idea, right?

Let me tell you why it’s actually about the worst thing that could be done. Mountain pine beetles and their larvae will be living in the dead timber even after you cut the trees down. This timber will be harvested and transported to somewhere else. Wherever else it is transported to is likely to have some pine trees. The mountain pine beetles will then have a fresh forest to destroy. This is how species get introduced accidentally where they shouldn’t be; we saw the same scenario play out with firewood infested with the emerald ash borer a few years ago, and that’s still a major problem in the midwest and on the eastern seaboard.

Basically, we don’t currently have a solution to the problem. We’ve tried pesticide, but the beetles don’t seem to care, and their spread is far too vast at this point for any treatment to be feasible. We’ve tried enhancing the soil conditions for the trees so that they won’t emit distress signals, but this can only work in very limited areas. Our pine trees are as doomed as the chestnut trees of the Appalachians during the chestnut blight outbreak of the 18th century. The forests in the Appalachians still haven’t recovered, and there is some evidence that they’re actually still declining as a result of the ecosystem imbalance.

Moral of the story: we fucked ourselves in a big way, and lots of us still won’t admit there’s a problem


End of rant.