May 18, 2012

...a battle worth fighting, nonetheless


Every now and then we read something in the newspaper that catches our eye, and which we think is worth repeating.

That was the case this week, when Aaron Orlowski of the Rapid City Journal penned an article quoting a couple of folks about the Rocky Mountain pine beetle infestation that has devastated much of our beloved Black Hills of South Dakota.  Flights of the pesky beetle are a recurring event and seem to plague the region a couple of times every century or so.

John Ball is a forestry extension specialist with South Dakota State University.  He was quoted as saying, “Every 40 years we have this problem,” suggesting that the infestation is part of a natural cycle for the beetles.  He noted that thinning the forest is one thing that definitely helps the situation, but that the Black Hills National Forest in recent years has had particularly dense stands of trees.  

He said that the only way to slow tree deaths would be to kill 97 percent of the beetles, but that would be an "unfathomable feat."

Ball concluded by observing that mixed stands with different species of trees and different ages of trees will help the forest be more resilient, once the current outbreak has subsided.

Wisely, Ball said that doesn’t mean that we should give up and not try to combat the beetle.  In fact, there have been workshops across the hills advising property owners about how they can fight the beetle and help protect their property.

It reminds us of another hot topic that Mother Nature has had on our plates since the beginning of recorded time:  global warming.  And global cooling.  Fears of a looming “ice age” caused some concern back in the mid-20th century – much the way global warming has stolen headlines in recent years.

Rocky Mountain Pine Beetle
I believe we have a better chance – slim though it might be – of sending the pine beetle into oblivion than we do of having any significant impact upon the climate.

Nonetheless, it’s wise to be good stewards of the resources we enjoy on our planet, and to do whatever we can to preserve and protect a healthy environment.  So we’ll continue to engage in recycling and other environmentally-friendly activities.

And we're all for thinning the forest, making life a bit more difficult for the pine beetles, and maybe combating another hazard in Mother Nature’s arsenal:  forest wild fires.

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