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Bark beetles’ attack on Western forests described during ‘Science Unwrapped’

March 26th, 2011 Posted in Arts and Life

By Cathy Morgan

LOGAN – USU’s “Science Unwrapped” event Friday had people asking the questions of whether global warming, weather and climate change may have an impact on the increase of bark beetles seen across the West in recent years.

Barbara Bentz, an entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station said, “Residents of Utah and other Western states are noticing more and more dead trees in local forests and wondering, ‘What’s going on?’”

Bark beetles are about the size of a matchstick and are known as Dendroctonus—Latin for “tree killer.” Within the last 100 to 150 years there has been a dramatic increase in pine tree mortality, Bentz said.

There’s reason beyond scenery to be worried about trees, she said. “Forests are the lungs of the globe,” said Bentz. Trees provide oxygen and help keep the carbon levels down.

Part of the problem, she said, is that bark beetles like warm weather.

“The warmer it is, the faster these beetles can grow,” she said. “Our winters are not staying cold long enough to kill them off.”

After Bentz’s presentation, faculty and USU clubs offered hands-on activities and information.

Michael Kuhns, a professor for the Department of Wildland Resources, talked about the role of USU Forestry Extension.

Kuhns said he doesn’t really see much that can be done about the bark beetle problem. “You can’t go in and spray a large area like a forest; maybe if there was a cabin next to 10 trees you would be able to save those.”

“Sometime in the future we may lose all our native trees,” Kuhns said. “We will have to go in and physically plant resistant trees to the beetles.”

Jonathan Koch, a student working with the USU Entomology Club, said Utah also is dealing with a major colony collapse of honey bees. “The bees haven’t been able to build up an immunity against some bacteria, pesticides and diseases,” he said. “We are part of the problem.”

With tables covered with tree samples, pamphlets of information about bugs and microscopes to allow people to look at bark beetles, everyone was able to have a better understanding of the beetle problem.

The “Science Unwrapped” program puts on a presentation once a month about some major science or research issue.


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