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High-speed internet is being used to entice remote workers to rural communities, Georgia is offering Black women participation in a guaranteed income initiative, and under-resourced students in Montana get a boost toward graduation.

Fueled by Warming Climate, Bark Beetles Chew Up Western Forests


Monday, September 25, 2017   

HELENA, Mont. – Fire won't be the only natural disaster to rip through Montana forests this year.

Another disaster will be using its teeth.

Bark beetles have long been a nuisance for wooded areas of the West, and scientists say climate change is making the land more susceptible to the beetles’ wrath.

Last year, outbreaks devastated nearly 50,000 acres of Treasure State forestland. Since 2000, the beetles have ravaged an area roughly the size of Utah, just in the western states.

Diana Six, a professor of forest entomology and pathology at the University of Montana, says the beetles' steady northward move in recent decades isn't normal.

"It's moving into places where it never was before, and that's all directly related to an increase in temperature,” she states. “Southern pine beetle is moving north. Larch beetle is moving. So, there's every indication that this is not just the normal kind of outbreak behavior. It's very much climate driven."

Six says bark beetles are very sensitive to the environment and that their migration northward is as reliable an indicator of climate change as any other signs or symptoms. She also notes that bark beetles are overrunning forests not just in the West, but around the world.

Six says people rely on forests, perhaps even more than they realize. Forests hold water supplies, clean the air, perform carbon sequestration and maintain biodiversity.

"And economics,” she adds. “I mean, wood products, recreation. Here in Montana, tourism is our number one economic engine.

“So, they're really important and, with more and more threats to the forests, we're going to have more and more problems."

Six laments that when bark beetle outbreaks get rolling, there isn't much to be done.

"In the long term, if we want to actually turn around these outbreaks and do something to really protect our forests, we're going to have to turn around climate change,” she states. “That's the only thing that's really going to make a difference. And of course, that will take some time."

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