Pine beetleIf you have traveled through the west in the past few years, most likely you have noticed the rusty-colored, dead trees that cover the hillsides – the result of pine beetle infestations.   At a recent Future Forests Summit encouraging news was heard – scientists are confident that these beetle-infected forests throughout the west will regenerate.  The pine beetle, a native insect that infests the bark of lodge pole pine trees and introduces a fungus that quickly chokes off the tree’s water supply and kills it, has infected forests across millions of acres from Colorado all the way north to British Columbia.    The conference addressed impacts of the epidemic on the forest and watershed, wildlife and ecosystems.


Evidence was presented that the pine beetle epidemic has not had catastrophic impacts on either water quality or wildfire risk, although the impact on wildlife is not as positive.  It is not known if the infected forests are more susceptible to fire, since there are so many variables.  When it comes to watershed issues, studies show that watershed in tree stands that suffered from the epidemic fared better than in clear-cut areas.  Some wildlife species may be negatively impacted by the acres of dead trees that now cover the mountains.


The bark-beetle represents a time of change and diversification for the infected forests.  Scientists explained that the forests are resilient and will regenerate, much like Yellowstone regenerated after the 1988 fire.  The land will most likely give way to a more varied species of trees, which already have begun to take root.  For scientists, visitors, and those of us who live near and enjoy the beauty of these forests, this is welcome news.