The great plague that is the pine beetle infestation has now destroyed millions of acres of timber across the western U.S. and into Canada. The extent of this calamity is so enormous that last month we covered the devastation at this website. This week Jim Robbins at The New York Times picked up the storyline and filed his own excellent report about the disappearing forest. Here are some of his key observations:
Montana has lost 1 million acres, but it’s worse in Wyoming and Colorado. Those two states have lost 1½ million acres with an additional 500,000 expected this year. In the next three to five years, “virtually all of Colorado’s lodgepole pine trees … will be lost, about five million acres,” writes Robbins. The hardest hit area? The Canadian province of British Columbia, which has lost 33 million acres of lodgepole pine forest so far.
What’s behind this epidemic? Fire suppression is one cause. Most trees are the same age and are exactly the right size to be susceptible to the beetles. Sustained drought conditions are another factor. So too are the milder winters.
What’s next? Unless next summer is unseasonably wet, brace yourself for the sort of wildfires and level of destruction not seen since the great Yellowstone fire of 1988. The Forest Service already has. USFS has installed an incident management team in Laramie, Wyo.