Human beings are obsessed with size. We want bigger cars and bigger houses, and, of course, men want bigger you-know-whats. But big isn’t everything.
A tiny insect, the mountain pine beetle, has devastated British Columbia’s interior pine forests, threatening enormous social, economic and ecological upheaval. The infestation, which is expected to kill close to 80 per cent of B.C.’s mature pine forests, was caused in large part by global warming and industrial forest-management practices.
In addition, the devastation caused by the beetles could exacerbate the unnatural warming that is already occurring. Normally, forests are carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide, and storing it in plant biomass and soils below ground.
In attempting to stop the beetles’ spread, the B.C. government has encouraged forestry companies to clear-cut large areas of pine forest, even though they include surviving trees of other species. However, the hyper-pace, scale, and intensity of this logging threatens to increase greenhouse gas emissions, as CO2 is released when trees are cut down and carbon-rich forest soils are mechanically disturbed.
Clear-cutting also kills immature trees and species such as spruce, which aren’t attractive to the beetle. Trees take a long time to mature to an age at which they become marketable, so if we cut down all the pine now, many areas of B.C. won’t have much of a forest industry for 80 years or more. Areas that have been clear-cut are also more prone to flooding.
Instead, the B.C. government must ensure that non-pine species aren’t killed, that large areas are set aside to protect the habitat of species that are vulnerable to logging, and to preserve sensitive sites such as wetlands, lakes and rivers.
We should also learn everything we can from this epidemic, as it likely won’t be the last. Other insects, such as the spruce budworm, are threatening forests in Eastern Canada, and the pine beetle itself has already leapt over the barrier of the Rocky Mountains to threaten the boreal forest that covers most of northern Canada.
Just because the beetles are small doesn’t mean they are insignificant; it’s not a matter of size.
Take David Suzuki’s Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.
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Dr. David T. Suzuki is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. He is the co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation in Vancouver where he lives with his wife and two daughters.