The Bark Beetle Exposed

A decade of serious disintegration of the conifer forests of North America is widely blamed on a 5mm-long winged weevil species commonly called the ”bark beetle.” While this is certainly no secret to the world, there is more than meets the eye (not that you can actually see it, as it appears no larger than a piece of rice) when it comes to this tiny, generally hated pest. The mountain pine beetle, southern pine beetle, and engraver beetle are just three among hundreds of species of similar beetles, but they have done enough damage to affect the economy, the air, the recreation industry, and more. While there is plenty of controversy around why this has happened, there are enough facts to draw some worthy conclusions.

The Damage Is Done

Thousands of conifers were lost between 2004 and 2014 in over 20 states, from the Yukon Mountains of Canada to the Rocky Mountains, and as far south as Mexico. The bark beetle drills small holes into the bark of pines, spruces, and other common conifer trees. These particular bark beetles reproduce in the inner bark area of live trees by way of a fungi that converts parts of the tree into food for the offspring, which eventually kills the tree. Sadly, as this forest disruption took place, more and more beautiful trees were lost, and the smell of fresh forest pine was nearly obliterated. The results were devastating, as seen in the trickle down effects of reduced wood supplies (88 million acres of timber needed for wood production and wood manufacturing), the absence of clean mountain air that is largely attributed to living forests, and the stability of seasonal mountain ski resorts.

 A Bad Rap for the Beetle

While the little pest has a bad rap for killing off thousands of trees, the original purpose of these types of beetles in a perfect world is associated with an important ecological system. When the environment is right, the beetle is to enter dead or week trees and actually speed up the cycle of decomposition. The result is to ultimately renew the forest rather than destroy it. Speculation by some indicates excessive drought and short winter seasons play a role in the problem. Given the range in territory where the problem exists, which also includes some forests in Europe, the reasoning is not confirmed. Some claim the lack of natural forest fires enhances the problem.

Some Good News In Terms of Salvaged Wood

The Forest Service, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and a number of other organizations have bark beetle management programs in place for improving the state of the forests. Trees that have died, if harvested within five years, are suitable for wood products and wood parts. The structure of the wood is not affected. Many programs involve salvaging wood and thinning of the forest floor to prevent fuel for wild fires and decay that results in green house gases. Healthy trees use natural sap to remove the beetle, and these efforts continue to lead to healthier forests overall and hope for the wood industry.

Count on Timberpart

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