Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ever hear of a bark beetle?

I feel that much like religion, each person has to come to their own conclusions about where they stand on environmental issues and accept their personal responsibility towards the stewardship of their own patch of green. I am neither an alarmist or proselytizer so I'm not going to preach, and I have no desire to persuade you to act one way or another. Today, I just want to make you aware of something that has happened already. The fun part comes later.

Several weeks ago, I wrote somewhat tongue in cheek about the financial troubles facing California. I was surprised by the locals who responded that the real war will begin and end with water. I didn't realize until recently how much that was in jeopardy.

My youngest son, Bunky, is a federal forest fire fighter, serving this summer near Colorado Springs, Colorado. He lives in Portland, Oregon off season. I think he fits in pretty well there.

Last week he and his crew were "invited" to attend a co workers funeral near Steamboat Springs, and he came back with a story which shook him to the quick.

The Colorado River headwaters are in the middle of a 2.5 million acre dead forest. Bark Beetles have infested the pine forests in Colorado and southern Wyoming and killed virtually every pine tree in the area. Another 5.5 million acres in surrounding areas are also dead. Bunky said it is a sight beyond compare. Dead trees everywhere, as far as the eye can see. 12,000 square miles worth.

When, not if, the fires come, they will be virtually humanly unstoppable. How, why, do you cut down 8 million acres of dead forests of unusable timber? How many lives do you risk? This isn't a projection, its not part of some profound group think experiment, it already happened, its real, today. You can go see for yourself.

According to Congressional testimony by the fire service last month, 33 million Americans get a quarter of their drinking water from the Colorado River. San Diego, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Tuscon are dependant on the Colorado. Fires in the headwaters will affect erosion, run off, snow melt and the quality and quantity of water available for years. And there is not a practical thing anyone can do to stop the spread of the beetle infestation, the fires, or the inherent risks of the dead forests in the federal forests.

So, if you have the opportunity to camp or vacation in the west this summer, keep your camp fires under control (I worry about Bunky a great deal). Take lots of pictures. Your children and grandchildren will never see western forests like that again.



Kathleen said...


This is a huge tragedy. I read about it earlier this summer in the NYTimes ( and wondered why we don't hear more about this.

Back in the 60's, my parents used to take us on trips through the west and I'll never forget the beautiful forests. Truly, this is heartbreaking.

Martha said...

Wow -- that is horrible.

skorpeo said...

as i commented on tintin's blog (, yet another reason i'm leaving the west coast. san diego not only has to worry about the lack of quality drinking water (but you'd never know it with the amount of people who overwater their lawns), but we have our own problem with wildfires. they thought the wildfires of 2005 were the worst they'd ever seen...until the wildfires of 2007.

Toad said...

Skorpeo, I understand SD schools are top notch also. Welcome to the other side.

Kathleen, I can't imagine why we haven't heard more. I suspect because we'd get really po'ed that nothing was done, when we had the chance to do something positive. The same type of problem exists in the Smokies.

Bunky is not terribly amused of the prospect of risking his life to save 12,000 sq miles of what is going to look like the dark side of the moon for a generation or so.

longwing said...

The bark beatle hit the Pinons in Santa Fe hard a few years ago. I thought it had passed. Guess not.

David V said...

There is a reason why you "Burn It Where You Buy It."

Dominique said...

This is such an important post. It is heart-breaking what is going on. The beetles are directly related to global warming; we no longer have long enough, and cold enough, winters to kill them off. Hence, scenes like the one your Bunky is observing. Thank you.