The pine beetle epidemic in the American West is almost too much to take in. As you look out at the trees covering the mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park you will notice that more than half the trees have a reddish hue. Pretty…while not REALLY as it’s the middle of summer, not fall, and most of the forests in central and northwestern Colorado are made up of lodge pole pines, an evergreen that doesn’t change colors at any time…let alone in July. Not only is there concern about pine beetle damage to the lodge pole pines in Colorado, but the aspen trees, a quintessential iconic tree found in the state are also dying at inexplicably high rates. The US Forest Service website has a lot of information on ongoing studies to look at how climate change is affecting the forests of the Rockies in the western US and Canada, both because of invasive species like the mountain pine beetle, as well as because of drought and rising temperatures (also linked to climate change).
The Forest Service, through its Rocky Mountain Research Station has prepared numerous congressional briefings on climate change – as it affects land management and forests – as well as specifically on the native bark beetles – which are killing billions of trees in the western US and Canada at an unprecedented rate. Not only is the US Forest Service overwhelmed by how to deal with this, but also it is unsure as to what the ultimate impact will be on plant, animal life and habitat in this area as the dying trees play havoc with erosion and water resources as well.
We took many pictures when we visited Colorado, a few of which are attached in a short video slide show, “now playing” in our Video Peek of the Week . In the short and medium term, there isn’t much we can do beyond watch, as climate change vividly plays out before our eyes. What we can do though, is encourage the Forest Service and the US government to use this disaster as a teaching and learning opportunity. Over 2 million individuals visit Rocky Mountain National Park each year, and in Yellowstone where the mountain pine beetle is devastating the white bark pine, millions more pass through here yearly, as well.
Signage on the mountain pine beetle is displayed at many rest stops and vista points throughout these Parks. However, the language about the disaster as it relates to climate change, is ambiguous at best and to me it actually seems grossly misleading. The Forest service has an incredible opportunity to educate the millions of park visitors on climate change that they can see “in action” and to help these families and individuals make the connection between the greenhouse gases they put into our atmosphere each day, and the destruction of our forests. Instead, the Forest Service seems to be shying away from this responsibility. This is a clear opportunity that the US Government is squandering. With public support crucial to national policy debates on climate change, every opportunity to “make the connection” and to educate average citizens about how climate change is impacting “their world” needs to be made and capitalized on. The cost of signage is minimal and the opportunity to educate, while difficult to measure is critical.
Help us get the Forest Service to change their signs and to educate the public on climate change and our dying forests! Spread the news, talk to your kids, ask them what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint and your impact on global warming. If you visit a National Park, ask the rangers there how climate change is affecting their park! More specifically, look for our petition..out we hope, later this month!