Jennifer Stegmann, USA
June 27, 2009
This morning, I saw some pictures a friend sent me. They were of the Glacier Basin campground in Rocky Mountain National Park. Or what’s left of the campground. It really was acutely painful to look at. As a kid, I measured my growth by the Lodgepole and Ponderosa pines (Pinus contorta and Pinus ponderosa) of Rocky. But this year, because of the pine beetle epidemic, my two favorite campgrounds, Glacier Basin and Timber Creek, were nearly clear-cut. You can’t wake up any more and enjoy a cup of morning coffee in the shade of a century-old pine while listening to a moose slurp up her morning sustenance in the nearby marsh.
Dendroctonus ponderosae, or Mountain pine beetle, is an insect found throughout forests in the western United States. The species is native to the region and makes its home in many species of pine including Ponderosa, Lodgepole, and Limber pines. Outbreaks can cause wide-spread tree loss; fire damage or other injury, drought, overcrowding, root disease, or old age are often reasons why specific trees or stands die first.
Throughout the Rocky Mountains, a few factors have contributed to the current epidemic. First, decades of purposeful fire suppression in our western pine forests have created dense forests. Prolonged drought is also one of the factors contributing to this current epidemic. Mountain Pine Beetles bore into the trunks of trees, creating pitch tubes. If a tree has sufficient resin, it can "pitch out" the intruding beetles. Older trees, however, and those suffering from the effects of a drought, have less resin and thus are less able to protect themselves. A third contributing factor revolves around aspect of climate change. The winters have not been cold enough, for long enough periods of time, to hinder larvae development. So beetle populations have not been kept in check by freezing temperatures in the winter months. Yet another effect of climate change is that the beetles are finding warmer temperatures at higher elevations and are thus moving higher up on mountainsides creating an even larger epidemic.
But it is all part of a process. I’ve seen how Yellowstone and parts of Alaska have fought back after [what we think of as] devastating fires. Being a native species, the beetles are a food source for woodpeckers, among other birds. And the death of pines will cause the opening of the canopy in many areas of Rocky. In turn, this will allow aspen and other understory plants to grow and thrive, encouraging the cycle of forest succession.
Mother Nature is the most resilient force we can witness. I know Rocky’s forests will come back, just not in my lifetime.
August 5, 2009
What do mountains mean to me today? A sense of wonder, freedom, and amazement. Something new around every bend in the trail.
Not to bring up past moments, but I received a new update about Rocky Mountain National Park this morning. The NPS has announced a first-come, first-served firewood sale, selling off the trees cut down as a result of the current Mountain Pine Beetle infestation. While members of my hiking group posted comments about this topic on our website this morning, I personally wondered how I would feel if I were to buy and use some of those downed Ponderosas…
I would need a moment of silence and reflection.