Scientists look for answers to Utah forests' beetle epidemic

Scientists look for answers to state forests’ beetle epidemic. By Judy Fahys. The Salt Lake Tribune.

This is not unique to Utah. Various and vast death of conifers is happening all over the Rocky Mountains as well as British Columbia and Alberta. The cause of the beetle pandemic is not local and there is no solution except a change to colder winters.

These forests burn more almost every summer and this will continue until there is a change in the vast regions. The people I talk don’t debate that this is going to happen, the question is what will replace the dying and dead forests?





  1. Vicki Avatar

    I was watching Discovery Channel the other day. There was a show about ants, and they talked about ants getting fungus’ or a parasite, which is specific only to ants. Could they find one for Pine Beetles? They said on the show that there are millions of these parasites that are each specificly attatched to only one species of insect. Just a thought.
    I doubt ther is a solution. The trees will burn, and the beetles will just move like a wave to new trees. Since they don’t eat dead trees, or charred trees, they will move on. This is an epidemic of our own creation, we drive, we energize with electricity, we create waste, we heat the globe. I see a low probability of colder climates here in the Rocky Mountains. If you ask some republicans, this is all in our minds, global warming doesn’t exist….and for damn sure has nothing to do with too many beetles eating all the trees. We are making the earth sick from our neglect and mis-use. We are killing our planet one bad side-effect at a time…beetles, drought, fires and pollution.

  2. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    Does anyone know if there was ever ‘talk’ about creating a some kind of “beetle break” , to work like a fire break. If a clear-cut were created to head them off, and was wide enough that they would starve before they could reach the trees on the other side, i wonder if that could halt or delay their progress long enough to find a permanent solution.
    It would be better to lose some trees to cutting rather than the dead trees left by the beetles. I would much rather see a giant swathe of timberless land as opposed to the hazard left by beetles in the deadzone that is definitely going to burn. I guess this is really a far-fetched idea.

  3. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    PS. I could not get to the article. The link is not working. So i apologize if my opinion is way off from the article….

  4. JB Avatar

    d. bailey:

    What is the citation? I can look it up tomorrow at work.

  5. catbestland Avatar

    I couldn’t get the article either. But my thoughts were; Here in Colorado we are experiencing a tremendous amount of forest loss due to pine bark beetle and spruce beetle infestation. On I-70 from Eisenhower Tunnel all the way nearly to Silverthorne the forest on the north side of the road is completely dead. It’s heartbreaking. I spoke with a representative from the Forest Service recently. She wasn’t aware of any study in this direction but said that woodpeckers and probably other birds, are natural weapons against these bark beetles as they feed on them. However much of their habitat which exists in riparian zones has been destroyed. Who can we thank for this destruction? Yes, the cattle industry. Elk and deer probably contribute to the destruction of riparian areas too, due to the fact that the wolf is not present to keep them on the move. If the wolf were reintroduced to Colorado, the beaver might return and help repair the riparian areas and the bird population might also increase. I wish they would study this concept. If we could get some real science to support this theory, it may be a step in the right direction in getting some of the other overgrazing issues resolved as well. I don’t know if the same would be true in other states. For instance, is there as much damage to riparian zones as there is in Colorado?

  6. JB Avatar

    Ahh, right the linked article. Sheesh I’m dense! I could not read it either.

  7. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    The idea about a “beetle break” is my own weird idea. I was wondering if anyone has ever proposed something like that? Considering the widespread destruction and the problems it poses in the near future i was just expecting that there would be an agressive plan. I have not found any info that any plan exists or that one is even being actively persued.

  8. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    It is highly unlikely that a beetle break could be constructed that would obstruct the movement of beetles from one stand of trees to another. We have to understand, these beetles swarm, and will swarm until they alight upon susceptible stands of trees. Furthermore, such a break would require considerable forest treatment and manipulation at great magnitude, one thing many of us have worked against because of the negative consequences of essentially clearcutting the forest.

    I studied pine beetle infestation of whitebark pine this summer and hope to continue the project next summer, if the funds can be found. I have concluded from my own study and from researching the literature that there is nothing that can be done about the beetle infestation, and, barring several winters of major minus 50 degree temperatures for weeks on end, the beetles will continue to increase in numbers and spread. In short, the fires are coming.

    The question is, given climate change, will western forests come back? I think to a certain degree they will in limited areas, but if in fact we are facing another altithermal, such as occurred from 6000 to 3000 years ago in the West, then it is most likely that most forests will not come back. During the altithermal, forests largely disappeared and were limited to mountainous areas that still attracked sufficient moisture to support forests.

    If that is the case, we are in effect looking forward to a major expansion of grasslands in the Western mountains.

  9. catbestland Avatar

    d. Bailey Hill,
    They are talking about that sort of break here in Colorado. The problem they say, is that the break would have to be at least 1 mile wide and surrounding hundreds of miles in area. The terain is so severe that it would be nearly impossible to cut and the purpose for cutting it would be to burn the area. So essentially they are talking about a fire break and a controlled burn of enormous proportions.

  10. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    Robert and catbestland– Thank you for the information!
    Also, I have some info about grants that may pertain to studying the beetle situation in the northern rockies.
    I am on my way out the door to drive to the city, but when i return i will check on the info about the grants and post it.
    Oh, one more thing–a large grassland for the bison to migrate and populate would be a dream come true!!!
    Thanks again!!!

  11. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Yes, but let’s not forget biodiversity. The replacement of forests by grasslands in the western mountains would mean the loss of forest wildlife–the small forest dependent predators, for example. It might not matter to someone a thousand years hence, but it matters to me.

  12. malencid Avatar

    Robert Hoskins has put forth the most credible outlook for forest in the west as the result of climate change. People think that we live in a static world. Biology does not work in that manner. In southern Oregon clear cut southern slopes no longer support conifers even if they are planted. They are becoming chaparall, just like parts of California. The correct link for the beetle article is

  13. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    If the beetles genes could be altered without effecting the environment they could be rendered sterile. I do not know the life span, but eventually they would die out, I would think. Tweaking beetle genes would be one cool challenge…
    To lose the biodiversity would be tragic indeed. With all the implications of global warming our forested areas are like gold.
    Will there have to be a trade off? I don’t know. But I think of Equivelent Exchange; to gain something, something of equal value must be lost.

    Robert—I have not found the grant info, but will keep searching.

  14. Vicki Avatar

    How could we alter genetics in a timely fashion? It seems unlikely considering the massive numbers of these bugs, that we could alter enough of their genes to even weeken them. The unaltered ones would just keep on multiplying. Didn’t they try something similar in fish that were non-native in Idaho? How would they gather the beetles? It seems like if they could gather them, they could just exterminate them in a controlled setting. I think the fires are coming too.
    I can say that Colorado is giving some press to the beetles right now, because an elderly man was crushed by a tree in Rocky Mountain National Park a few days ago. He and his hiking partner were both hit by the tree, but his partner was able to make it out. The media is asing if the tree tha fell was effected, or infected, by the beetles. Maybe the press will promote a look at a viable solution.

  15. Vicki Avatar

    P.S. I am pretty sure the shocke the river the unwanted fish were in, and gathered fish to alter. Those fish were unaware of their infertility and thus tricked females into believing they were being courted and they layed their eggs withut hope of them being fertilized. Kind of like fish vasectomies, no genetic altering. Sorr, my comparison may have been off. But I still see no way to gather enough beetles to alter.

  16. penny frazier Avatar

    There were millions of acres of pinyon lost to the bark beetle and the BLM is still moving ahead with massive deforestation projects in Nevada without thinking in terms of “systems” and food resources. The Sierra Club is in the process of writing a newsletter article on pinyon deforestation and global warm. Will come back and post the link when it is published.

  17. Justin Avatar


    Biologists have actually used genetics to cause certain insect species to decline but not in the way you described. A method that’s employed involves releasing millions (or if need be billions) of sterile males raised in a lab. These males cause the wild females to waste their reproductive effort and can lead population decline. It was used to eliminate the screw-worm from the US.

    Problem is, you need a lot of insects to pull it off and a laboratory facility to raise them, which cost boat-loads of money. Plus, you would need a food source for the developing beetles i.e. pine trees.

  18. elkhunter Avatar

    What ever happened to letting nature take its course? Just like the wolf that benefits the ecoysystem I am sure that this type of infestation has happened before. Mother Nature has worked it out in the past. Its funny how with wolves, people dont want them bothered at all, but when the beautiful tree’s are threatened everyone wants all sorts of human intervention. I say let Nature take care of it.

  19. catbestland Avatar

    It could very likely be man’s intervention that contributed to the deaths of these forests. For instance if riparian zones, the habitat of the birds that naturally feed on these beetles, had not been destroyed by overgrazing, Nature could have provided a natural defense with higher bird populations. It would not have stopped the blight as these things do occur in natural cycles but it may have prevented them from being so severe. So what we are trying to suggest is that man take steps to correct some of the man made conditions that may have contributed to the problem

  20. Tony Frates Avatar

    These beetle infestations while involving native organisms/ecosystems would seem to definitely reflect a world that is out of equilibrium. I strongly suspect that the comments above concerning riparian area loss is in fact a contributing cause. And I do think we attempt to intervene way too often and we simply commit sin upon sin. If the principal cause of these infestations is due to warmer temperatures and the fact that people are living where they should not, we can best “intervene” indirectly by “thinning out” the people that think they have a right to in places that they should not, and by adopting polices that do not allow people to live in places where fire needs to occur, by working to restore riparian areas, by reducing CO2 emissions, by stopping the insane deforestation “treatments” that are going on, by changing similarly ill-thought out re-seeding much of which is a complete waste of money and resources, by eliminating grazing in the West, etc. We likely shouldn’t be trying to treat the beetle infested areas directly themselves except other than perhaps some non-invasive thinning (so I’m not talking about goats or chaining) of dead trees only, and again maybe, some “controlled” fires.

    The Trib article makes the statement:

    “Tree thinning that can help slow the beetles’ spread has met environmentalist and aesthetic objections”

    In fact this is referring to “logging” proposals. So-called environmentalists are not responsible for these infestations. This is an utterly bogus statement in an otherwise good article.

    And quite frankly we are also not dealing with an out of control worldwide population. There is a direct link between climate change and population that is being ignored in most discussions of climate change. That needs to change, and change quickly. It is all related. That is the real inconvenient truth: we are living beyond the ecological footprint that the planet can support. And we have no plans to do anything about that.

    See for example:


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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