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Friday, October 30, 2009

Pine Beetles Love Climate Change; Pines Less Pleased

Remember the story about Harney Peak trails being shut down for timber cutting? Rangers are trying to thin the trees and minimize the spread of those darn pine beetles.

Where did those pine beetles come from? Us. Climate change:

SARAH GARDNER: But wait a minute. Explain for us how this little beetle has anything to do with climate change? Because, I mean, my understanding is that the pine beetle is a native species, right? It's always been there. And a lot of westerners believe the only reason it's gotten out of hand is because we haven't been thinning out the forests enough, right?

SAM EATON: That hasn't helped. And you throw in fire suppression and the beetles basically have an all-you-can-eat buffet of lodge pole and Ponderosa pine. But the scientists I talked to -- like Jesse Logan, who's been studying the beetles for decades -- say the main thing driving this outbreak is human-caused global warming.

JESSE LOGAN: It's by the actions of people. It's directly our actions that are taking these forests out.

SAM: Let me connect the dots here. Logan says pine beetles have always been held in check by deep winter freezes. But that 2-degree increase in average temperatures you mentioned earlier, Sarah, has meant fewer cold snaps -- especially in the high elevations of the Rockies. Basically, the pine beetle couldn't have asked for better breeding conditions [Sarah Gardner and Sam Eaton, "Climate Change in Our Own Backyards," Marketplace, 2009.10.27].

Marketplace is running a big series on climate change; part 4 runs this evening (SDPB Radio, 19:00 CDT). Each piece is lengthy and worth the listen. The series webpage includes lots of resources on climate change science and economic impacts.

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