Short Stories
Entry No. 10   July 15, 2004

An Environmental and Economic Nightmare

As I head south, and some more south, I notice the oranges and reds of the endemic pine trees peppered in with the rest of the pine forests of BC. There was talk of the Mountain Pine Beetle problem, but I had not been really educated about it until I happened upon a few scientists waiting along the side of the road at a small air strip for the arrival of a rep from a far away timber company. I was told the story of the mountain pine beetle and what could be Western British Columbia's largest economic and environmental nightmare to date. Now, this was "their" story and after hearing about it I was determined to try and get all sides of the story. As I rode throughout BC, I asked anyone and everyone about the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic. I did some investigating at the BC Forestry Service office, brought up the topic to just about everyone I met, and found some information on the Internet to find an objective view of this problem. So, after such an intro, I decided to point out a few situations, some old, some new, that are helping this environomic nightmare of the Mountain Pine Beetle.

First, we have the problem of planning and coordination. We, as a species, boast ourselves as being the most intelligent of them all. Nevertheless, we seem to have trouble collaborating. Native tribes, whether they're Tlingit, Inuit, Native American, or whatever, seem to take care of their "own". They coordinate, work together, trust each other and work with a sense of community as they are a close knit group of people. Now, not all tribes work this well. Some, especially at present, are not so unified and never see the benefits and monies given to them by the government because their chiefs should get the benefits and pass them down. The way the system has been set up to compensate the tribes for invading their land allows the chiefs to have unlimited and unchecked freedom in what they do with these benefits and monies which has allowed a bit of corruption seep in.

My comparison here, however, refers to those people that do still function as a unit and do it successfully. Whereas Canadians and Americans have come from all over and don't really have their "own". We have our own families, but a sense of community outside of that is very rare. Without that trust and sense of "we're all in this together", logging trucks filled with logs of the same size and shape will continue to pass each other on the highway and we'll continue to miss the boat on large scale cooperation that creates meaningful efficiency and works towards the greater good.

The second problem is a little beetle that, due to global warming, now survives Western BC's no-longer-harsh winters and has grown to epidemic proportions. The mountain pine beetles are a crafty little species that burrow into the lower half of older pine trees, under the bark, and lay their eggs. While the females start this off, they attract their male friends by giving off pheromones, which, in turn, give off other pheromones that attract other females. I don't think the first set of females mind this little trick as they are just happy they've found good breeding grounds and only want to reproduce. Bush would be so proud - no aborting and no homosexual beetles. So they do the nasty and lay some more eggs. All the while, each beetle has some fungus on their legs which, when it gets under the bark, clogs the pores of xylem and phloem that bring water up from the roots of the tree. Now the tree tries to defend itself by "pitching out" sap to discourage the beetles. The effectiveness of this mechanism depends on how quickly the beetle slows the flow of water to the crown of the tree. When the water is cut off, the tree's pitch flow is reduced and its defense is compromised. Once the water supply is interrupted in the tree, the tree foliage begins to dry out. Hence, in about two to three months, you can see the reds and oranges. At that point, the tree is still usable for the timber industry, but its time is limited. As well, it has a blue stain in the wood from the fungi that had been transported through the veins and arteries of the trees.

If the tree is not used within a year or two, it is not only unusable in the eye of the timber industry, but it becomes a hazard for nasty forest fires from all of the dry wood, just waiting to ignite. I've been asking around and I am still in the learning process of all of this, but some points of views on the problem and what to do have been really insightful, while others, like that clerk at the Esso station in Vanderhoof, were not well thought out. This guy complained that the beetle wouldn't have been a problem if "those damn Greenpeace organizations" had let the government spray "the bastards dead" by air 40 years ago. I tried to see his point of view and nodded, but mentioned the fact that the spray would have killed all of the other living organisms without even effectively killing the beetle since they reside so close to the ground and the spray would not have reached them. I also found out later at the Begbie Summit Fire Lookout, that it was found that the chemical they wanted to use would have killed the trees themselves as well.

The way I think we are going to overcome this epidemic lies in our ability to coordinate and work together to solve this problem. We need help from all sides on this. We need input from the scientists working to find a safe chemical or medium to kill the beetle or slow its progress. We need cooperation among the government, environmental organizations, and the timber industry to agree on an approach that will utilize the affected trees, set up plans to start re-growth in infested areas, and save or possibly log mature, high risk trees that are still unaffected. I still don't know what the best answer is, but I am beginning to understand the arguments for logging trees that are in high risk areas. I also understand the need to fell and burn patches of the infected trees, not only to avoid a devastating, uncontrollable fire, but to enable the pine cones to release their seeds as only extreme heat can do this. In this sense, I do not feel burning destroys. Instead, it releases the seeds of a new forest.

Working together and being active in finding out the correct information, or more importantly, being told the correct information through news sources could clear up a lot of misunderstanding. Being proactive in helping the community works as well. Many BC residents have already shown their support by purchasing the still strong wood with the blue stain and the timber industry is marketing the "denim" color of the wood, which many have actually embraced. Ideas and support have to come from all sides and the problem of controlling the beetle populations still needs to be solved. Without winters below -40 degrees, those beetle will continue to survive and thrive until there are no more trees to brood their offspring. Now that I am thinking about it, maybe some form of All Natural Round Up (1) would kill the fungi on the legs of the beetle! I'll have to contact BC's forest service about that.

(1) All Natural Round Up is a natural way to get rid of weeds around your house and garden. Check out the Eco-Logics page for the recipe to safely and effectively kill some pesky weeds.

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