Of beetles and borders


The mountain pine beetle's red hand of death (see photo below) continues to plunder Rocky Mountain forests, according to a report released last week by the U.S. and Colorado forest services. The rampant pest chomped through another 400,000 acres of pines in Colorado and southern Wyoming last year, for a grand total of four million acres since the outbreak began here in 1996. See time-lapse maps of the beetle's takeover here.

The beetle's outbreak -- and the vast swaths of dead, red trees left in its wake -- stand as the West's most visible reminder of the changing climate as warmer, drier weather over the last decade has let beetle populations boom.

Now the pine beetle is meddling in international trade agreements. The decades-long softwood lumber dispute with our northern neighbor was reanimated last week when the U.S. took Canada to court for allegedly dumping under-priced lumber on the domestic market once again.

Canada insists it was just trying to purge beetle-killed timber that covers over 40 million acres of yonder government lands, and is flooding lumberyards as removal efforts proceed. But Uncle Sam insists the Canucks are up to no good, that they are undercutting timber prices agreed upon in the 2006 Softwood Lumber Agreement by downgrading beetle-killed logs to make them cheaper for Canadian lumber producers. According to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, this unfairly benefits Canadian producers while impacting already-struggling home turf timber and lumber sales across the West. Kirk even went so far as to accuse Canada of kiln-baking logs to create cracks and lower the price of otherwise high-value timber.

Just last week, the U.S. won a prior case when the London Court of International Arbitration ordered Canada to compensate $59.4 million for the country's past uncouth timber subsidies. In 2007, the U.S. scooped up another $68 million in damages; an additional claim is yet to be resolved.

Meanwhile, outside of the halls of government, the mountain pine bark beetle munches on.

Nathan Rice is an HCN Intern

Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service