by Matt Johnson – December 13th , 2012.
Chapter 5 of Empire of the Beetle is mostly a recap of how stupid we are in trying to control this slow moving tsunami which is the bark beetle epidemic. The inevitable
fallout for mill towns, built on a mono-economy and a mono-culture (lodgepoles), is predictable.
Ghost Forest further explores what I feel is an even greater threat then the loss of the lodgepole forest which is the loss of the five-needled whitebark pines, a keystone species of western forests that protects the ecosystem along the Continental Divide. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem worsens even more quickly for whitebark then Nikiforuk predicted a scant two years ago.
MPB’s assault on sub-alpine whitebark pines is dramatic because it kills “rare 800 year-old elders, not 100 year veterans (trees).”
Whitebark grow where most pine and spruce can’t. They also store more carbon then a lodgepole pine.
Quoting Chapter 6,
“The generous tree glues together the alpine world…for thousands of years the Lillooet, Blackfoot, Shuswap, Kootenay and shoshone harvested the (whitebark) pines large, high-energy seeds.”
Luckily there is some happy news when analyzing the Song of the Beetle. The story of avant-garde musician turned beetle researcher David Dunn uses high quality microphones to record the clicking sounds of the ips beetle initially. Nikiforuk organizes his book well in that each chapter focuses on a particualr bark beetle and a particular forest.
In the Song of the Beetle chapter, the pinyon pine takes center stage in the scrubby pinyon and juniper forests of New Mexico. The scene is the desolate Sangre De Cristo mountains outside Sante Fe, N.M.
Ips confusus has alighted in a fury on these forests since 2003. However, Dunn and colleagues discover and demonstrate that, a bark beetle is confused by digital recordings of its own song perhaps leading to the type of advanced interdisciplinary solutions that the bark beetle problems require.
Conclusion: Overall I highly recommend this book as the most readable account of specifically the bark beetle and more broadly a moving account of small things that are causing big problems.