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Bark Beetles/the future

By: ronnm , 6:00 PM GMT on July 13, 2014

In New Mexico back in the early 1990's we had one local climatologist(who passed away soon after), who stated we were to enter into a 50 year drought, by his calculations. Most including myself scoffed at such a notion, as the preceding decade had seen some of the wettest in history in the Southwest.

Well by some calculations now we are indeed in a period of alternating cycles which predispose to drought since his prediction. The individual years may vary but all years considered more years of drought present in the average than wet. So technically we are not in drought since 1990 or so, (though certainly technically are now), but really we are. As in the stock market if one see higher highs and higher lows the stock is heading up(though each day varies) and if one sees lower lows and lower highs the stock is heading down, the southwest is in (very grossly considered), his 50 year drought period.

I bring up bark beetles as I don't know the science of the subject nor if it has been significantly studied.
Drought has significantly improved the presentation of bark beetles in the southwest and elsewhere.

To my first notice of bark beetles in my area which is adjacent to a national forest with drought of several years period they presented as killing the deficient trees, those too crowded in deficient spots for water or other reason. Trees essentially just waiting to be killed. In past years without forest "management"(or mismanagement to my opinion) those trees were destroyed by fire. The ponderosa pine being the most obviously fire dependent species having fires necessary for its successful maintenance. A trees defense against the beetle is sap which is water dependent. Though the least sappy tree the juniper or cedar is the least prone due probably due to density of wood. As any tree cutter will tell you, a chain will barely last a tree, without resharpening with a cedar, but do five or so on piñons or ponderosas.

Well that was it, thought I, quite mistakenly. Next with subsequent drought over years duration I noticed next whole stands of trees with no obvious deficiency were being killed. Pinions in my area most noticeably. Virtual swaths, and not only the prone trees which are the less sappy full grown ones but the younger most sappy ones thought immune.

Next I noticed whole stands of trees of non related specie were being taken. As in North of Santa Fe where gross stands of Ponderosa Pine are being killed, (obvious from I-25).
And I have noticed some instances of trees of unrelated specie such as Juniper(called cedar) seemingly at times suffering from attacks, though historically such trees are relatively immune from infestations.

So we have a pattern of bark beetles propagation which seems to spread from deficient trees to normal trees and expanding to other specie of trees, over perhaps a ten year period in total.

This is in a way related to AGW as long duration cold events of winter reduce bark beetles populations significantly, and the long cycle of drought is thought to be related in a way . Even in NM most of your mountains sees long periods of cold in winter.
Neg 15 celsius seems to be the killing range for bark beetles.

But it seems quite curious this spread. The specie jump I just cannot account for.
And I guess we are to see with some long term considered brief period of wet a continuation of drought in the southwest.

i wonder to what extent is this behavior unusual? To what extend has the removal of fire from the southwest tree cycle allowed it or even caused it? And to what extend has the drought been abnormal in a historical tree sense, as in never occurring to these type trees in this area?


As a aside bark beetles may be noticed at times not only by their devastation but by their sound. One notices a relatively large tapping or knocking from the beetles within the tree when they are infested. Not all at one time and only occasionally, but singular in occurrence. I have never heard of others noting this but it is certainly present.
Cut trees display this most often to my experience.

The beetles spread to my observation by smell. They smell one dying or distressed tree and they spread to it and invariably to the others by it. I saw one tree felled by lightening. Within one year every tree around it(about ten or so) was felled by bark beetles. The tree felled by lightening was Ponderosa but the trees felled by beetle were piñon.

So as to prevention, seemingly the immediate removal of a infested tree is absolutely necessary. As the smell of the dying tree draws more to the immediate area. This is how they seemingly destroy large swaths by identifying for predation by mechanism of smell. Though now no tree regardless of how healthy seems immune if they target it.
Pesticides have marginal success with this beetle as they live deep within the bark and are not easily exposed.
In very remote places large large flocks of woodpeckers have arisen in response to these beetles. Birds are still seemingly being effected to the negative by pesticides, some singular types more than others.
I wonder if perhaps we would see much more flocks if pesticides were not in widespread usage.
Perhaps in times past this was natures response, consequent large large flocks of woodpeckers, but I can only conjecture. In my area despite the beetles presence, woodpeckers are still relatively singular and not common.

As another aside I am discouraged about the future of things. We have screwed about everything that may be screwed up in the forests. We have likely killed many of the natural predators of the beetles the woodpeckers by indiscriminate pesticide usage and habitat disruption. We have destroyed the forest itself by stopping all fires and thusly grossly overcrowding it and making it more susceptible to insects and propagating destroying not healthy fires. And we likely have resulted in the wholesale removal of many specie of tree as the adaptive response time to AGW in location transference, is just not possible for most specie of pine. Fast growing and propagating trees are favored by rapid climate change, slow growing and propagating trees disfavored.

The forest as a microcosm of the world, we are about screwed in a multitude of ways. The worlds population is now over 7 billion. It was seemingly just yesterday 6.
Sure 8,9,10 many more billion can live. But who exactly wants to live in a world where all else, all other specie, is sacrificed for human and all space must be utilized for the holy thing called jobs, which is really by another name called food to live.
23 Billion that is the number I hear bandied about now as to possibly top. Who would want to live in a world with 23 Billion? All land devoted to human and every specie allowed to continue only if they benefit human, that is what such a circumstance will require, though I digress.

I want to take you call by the shoulders, say wakeup wakeup, we don't want to live in your world of 23 Billion. It will be quite a horrible place. You perhaps religious sorts or other sorts wanting a final ending or judgement to occur and this leading to it, we don't want to live in a world you have framed, till then, it is just to painful, in this here and now we live. We cannot stand to see all else that does not serve human or be human gone. It limits us not in a real way you or I can see but in another way, it limits our imagination our possibility. We cannot dream of things we know not of. And first we must dream to create.

You who by religion or other thought thinks they are steward of this land this earth, they see, Shepard it, manage it. It is plain you are not. Bark beetles attests to that. We know virtually nothing of this simple thing yet it effects so much. ONe thing affecting another and another producing a wholly unexpected thing. So goes humanity. In the end human they will be found to have killed not just their world but their imagination.
With the death of specie the death of the perspective that anything that does not serve human is irrelevant, (which a population of 23 billion will require as ideology largely mirrors circumstance) will die our ability to create. When we cannot create we cannot respond to challenge as only creation innovation idea, these type of things rise to challenge. So disabled as a specie we will not last long. So sad this tale in so many ways.

No offense to this site, nor to the adds and the necessity for them but now that I have written this a add pops up for treatments for pine beetles of trees I am thought to own. Thinking who will treat the pines in the forests in the wilderness I visit?
Thinking why this propensity of human to always think of things I own and from this perspective act. Will woodpeckers die from this treatment of "my" trees this add suggests. I can only fathom as to click it I am not inclined. The problem lying not in the pesticide really but in the thought I may own a tree or other thing. I being no socialist nor communist but knowing really we never to own a thing but lease them for our use or pleasure. And from this mistaken idea of ownership of other things arises in the main the idea of pesticide usage on trees, and singularly things considered without thought of other impact.

AS my neighbors clear the lands on their property from fire inducing brush but think not the fire spreads from brush aside and outside their property boundary in the main. Never thinking that, as ownership it only incites action in the largest part.
Thinking almost to a fault, I have cleared my property I will be safe. They have not they will burn. But things in the real rarely acting in such isolated fashion and clarity.

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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