On the last leg of the Icefields Parkway, descending from the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center, I began to notice that intermittent trees in the forest were dead; not dead as if there had been a forest fire, but with healthy green trees around them and the pine needles still on the trees—no forest fire behavior with which I was familiar; more like they died of being starved of water. On our ATV outing the next day, I noticed whole stands of trees in a similar state and asked our driver about it. She said that there was a forest fire there the year before, but I knew this was not a result of fire. This is an unhealthy forest. Something else was killing these trees.
Once I got back to an online connection, I confirmed my suspicions—a pest infestation, the Mountain Pine Beetle. A natural part of the cycle of forests, pine beetles serve a purpose to open up the forest floor to sunlight, thus increasing biodiversity, making forests healthier.
Recently however, the Mountain Pine Beetle is spreading like wildfire across the Rocky Mountains from Colorado and up through Canada and the behavior of these pests, according to a study, are irregular. Their reproductive cycles, which normally take two years are now taking one year (known as bivoltinism), so there is an extra generation in a normal reproductive cycle and the culprit, researchers have concluded, is unseasonably hot weather brought about by climate change.
As the climate changes, so changes the biosphere. As climate zones migrate, so do pests. Dead trees make forests more susceptible to forest fires.
For more information, see:
– Mountain Pine Beetle Takes Over Jasper Park Forests, Edmonton Journal, July 17, 2018
– Climate Change Sends Beetles into Overdrive, Science, March 16, 2012
– Mountain Pine Beetle a Natural Phenomenon, Edmonton Journal, August 2, 2017
– Half of All Species Are on the Move—And We’re Feeling It, National Geographic, April 17, 2017