Dying Forests package, page 3 | Trees | Beetle



S U N D A Y , S E P T E M B E R 25, 2011 ≤ O U R D Y I N G F O R E S T S < F 3

How beetles destroy trees Tiny though they may be, spruce beetles are making a huge dent in the state’s — and the West’s — spruce forests. How the invader ultimately kills a spruce tree:

Invasion: Female spruce beetles bore into the bark of the tree and release a pheromone that attracts male beetles into the phloem layer of the tree.


RICK EGAN | The Salt Lake Tribune

according to aerial surveys by the U.S. Forest Service. That’s as much space as all of America devotes to its lawns. And the beetles show no signs of crashing. They kill by burrowing into the fleshy layer of nutrientconducting phloem — just under the bark — which their larvae eat and effectively girdle. Various bugs have swallowed 2 million acres of Utah forests, a patchwork about as large as Yellowstone National Park. In Montana, with more than 6 million acres of beetle carnage, second only to Colorado, the frost-free season has extended by two weeks in the past half-century. That’s pleasantly milder for people who once routinely bundled themselves against 40-below zero winters, but it’s torturous for pine trees. “In the arid West, you only have a growing season if it has enough water, just like your garden,” said Steve Running, ecology professor and University of Montana Climate Change Studies Program director. But the region hasn’t gained water, and most climate models predict it will lose moisture to evaporation even when more falls as snow or rain. “It means a longer stress period for the trees,” said Running, whose research on global forests helped the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change share the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore. “Stress on the tree host is to the advantage of the invading insect.” So trees around the Rockies will have to grow with more spacing, Running said, as a response to changes in precipitation and evaporation. That could mean the forests look more like they did a century ago, before fire suppression allowed them to close in. But some species likely will struggle to hold on. It could be,


Running said, that the forests will need help adapting, and foresters will plant droughttolerant pines from Arizona and New Mexico into Utah, Idaho or Montana.

Creating ‘galleries’: Beetles bore what are called galleries — a network of passages where females lay their eggs and larvae are hatched.


cientists say w a r m i ng t emperatures have pressed the accelerator on the natural cycle of tree deaths by cranking up the beetle birthrate. Each year for centuries, mountain pine beetles — the most prolific species of the latest outbreak — have emerged to strike new trees, though in colder places a generation might take two years. Now they are popping up more often; some will live to breed into a second season. Barbara Bentz, an entomologist with the Logan branch of the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station, monitors temperatures around the West. She has found that, at high elevations, where mountain pine beetles previously needed two years to complete a generation, now they work faster in warmer trees and can reproduce in a year. Another development is adult beetles that breed one summer and then survive a mild winter appear to have eggs leftover for a second go. They’ll emerge earlier than n July, when they usually fly y from dead trees in search for r their next victims. Some foresters and entoomologists believe two generarations can now emerge in a sinngle summer, perhaps indicating ng there’s enough frost-free time me for new larvae to mature and nd target new trees before their r winter slumber. But Bentz is not convinced. She has watched for that, especially at warmer research sites such as around California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Defense mechanism: The tree attempts to expel the invaders by secreting pitch.


Cutting off circulation: In addition to boring galleries, adult beetles release a blue- colored fungus that impedes the circulation of nutrients in the tree.


The color of death: Cut off from life-sustaining nuturients, the tree begins to turn color the spring following invasion; by midsummer, it will ummer, be reddish-brown. reddish-brown


Sources: Barbara Bentz, Utah State University; U.S. Forest Service, Tribune research

“I have been going to the warmest places I can find, looking for it,” she said, “but I can’t find it.” O t her s say t hey h ave. Nancy Bockino, ecologist for Grand Teton National Park, said mountain pine beetles attacking the western Wyoming trees she’s trying to protect spawned two generations in 2007. Her mom, along on a working field trip, pointed out that a green tree had both entry and exit beetle holes. Believing that impossible — any tree attacked the previous year would be showing yellow or red needles — the scientist told her mom it couldn’t be so. Then she took a look for herself — and was a believer. “It was a warm spring,” Bockino said. “They were killing [trees] in May.” Follow-up visits later in the season found a second wave of afflicted trees. University of Montana entomologist Diana Six said she, too, has documented a double batch of beetles. It was in the St. Regis Valley, near where Montana meets the Idaho Panhandle, and there were two “perfect” generations. Sometimes an extended warm season will fool new adult beetles into thinking they have time to fly and attack, she said, but usually they don’t make it. “If they do,” Six said, “our forests are in trouble. And with predictions we have for climate change, we will go there, obviously.” Those predictions by the government’s Rocky Mountain Research Station, pegged to what Forest Service scientists say is proving a conservative projection for carbon emissions, find that Salt Lake City’s frost-free growing season could soar by 44 percent from 161 days to 232 by 2100. But it doesn’t take prognosti tication to translate climate ch change into forest degradation. Just like at Brighton, Montana’s winter lows have risen, tana on average, by 4 to 6 degrees in


the past half-century. “Montana used to be famous for minus-30 and minus-40degree days,” Running said. “That just doesn’t happen anymore.” Add the longer growing season, he said, “and this is what we think is really the climate trigger for all these epidemics.” oresters a re starting to consider planting t r e e s f a r t her north than they previously might have been expected to thrive. “Populations are adapted to their local climates,” said Glenn Howe, associate professor of forest genetics at Oregon State University, “and if those local climates move elsewhere, we can reasonably assume those local populations will not be [well] adapted.” A consensus is emerging to consider climate change in reforestation, he said, though it’s slow going because only a tiny fraction of the forest is ever in condition for planting at once. The fear is that without such help, trees might clear out of their changing homes while never making it to the places that are newly hospitable because climate change is moving faster than they are. Thinning and controlling insects will help, Howe said, but “that may only have the desired effect for a certain period of time.” The prospects for an engineered landscape are Frankenstein-scary to Six, the Montana entomologist. Tinkering with nature has created side effects before, she noted, and doing so now “assumes we know what we’re doing, which we don’t.” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco agreed that milder weather has worsened beetle outbreaks beyond anything in recorded history. Climate change also has

increased swings in weather, putting season-sensing plants on a yo-yo. “There’s a lot more stress,” she said. Lubchenco signed a deal this summer with the Western Governors’ Association to provide climate outlooks to states. At the late-June meeting in Idaho, where they approved the cooperation, however, governors were divided about whether climate is killing trees. Instead, a number of Republican governors, including Utah’s Gary Herbert, accused the federal government of letting its lands grow too thick. Thinning the West’s forests takes money — conservatively tens of billions of dollars to treat everything the Obama administration says is sick — and the Agriculture Department’s Forest Health Protection budget, like many a federal ledger during these lean years, has flat-lined just as the need has crescendoed. About 80 million acres of national forests need treatment to reduce unusually high fire risks, restore resiliency against insects, create openings for wildlife or sprinkle in younger trees, said Harris Sherman, the department’s undersecretary for natural resources and the environment. The Forest Service would require $300 to $2,000 an acre to treat it all — if that were humanly possible in a fast enough time frame. Cost depends on terrain and whether the forest needs mechanical thinning and chipping, controlled burning, commercial logging or another method. Even if everything could be done for just $300 an acre, the price tag would hit $24 billion. That’s not happening. The agency has about $1 billion this year for forest health projects including fuel reduction, timber sales and wildlife
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