« Return to this article

Know the West

Bark beetles affect human communities, too

  Your bark beetle article missed the human and community dimension (HCN, 7/19/04: Global Warming's Unlikely Harbingers). People who live, work, and play in forests devastated by beetles (e.g. Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula) perceive a wide range of impacts and risks. The biological implications of widespread beetle-kill include invasive, fire-prone grasses, decline in fish and animal habitat, and increased erosion and flooding. Fire is a major concern, but falling trees pose equal dangers year-round for property, power lines, and safety. Beetles bring a boom-bust timber industry, changing local communities in unsustainable ways, since timber value of dead trees declines rapidly. But often overlooked is the change in quality of life. Loss of scenery, privacy, recreation opportunities, and identity are keenly felt. Some capitalize on the "emerging views" and new logging jobs, but forest management is complicated by the diverse array of communities and values. While it may be easy for the ecologist to say, "We’re just trying to live with it," local residents are the ones really living with the complex implications of this dramatic ecological change.

Courtney Flint State College, Pennsylvania