Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Climate Change, errrr "Pine Beetles" Threatens Boreal

Log 'em, burn 'em but don't address climate change.

That is the ongoing message on how to stop the voracious pine beetle, now poised to wreck havoc on the northern boreal in Alberta. Unfortunately, as appealing as the idea of blaming smokey the bear and a slash & burn solution truly is, the only real relief is in addressing the root cause of the problem - climate change.

This is a delicate issue which has valid concerns on both the environmental side, in terms of climate change and sustainable forestry practices, and for the economy in terms of lost resources through the destruction of pine forests. Unfortunately, planning to eradicate pine beetles through logging is a little like trying to catch a terrorist by x-raying footwear - it is a knee jerk reaction to a symptom of a larger world problem.

Contrary to the belief of many, pine beetles are not an infestation that systematically spread from a single point source like a flu epidemic. Pine beetles are mainstays of the broader ecosystem and are capable of emerging over a host of separate areas whenever environmental conditions allow - as this map from Environment Canada demostrates.

So combine the fact that sustained temperatures of -40 degrees celcius are needed to wipe out pine beetle infestations, with the fact that the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1990, and it is little wonder that we have had an ongoing problem. And as long as temperatures remain high the pine beetle will continue to spread.

We may be able to slow it through logging and controlled burns, but the only viable long-term strategy that will save our forests is to start taking meaningful action on climate change now. Without it we have two options 1) decimated forests, or 2) clear cutting every stitch of pine below the arctic circle. To me, a seat next to that shoe bomber guy sounds preferable to the ecological suicide of options 1 & 2.

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