The New York Times blows the bark beetle story

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"The New York Times blows the bark beetle story"

pinebeetlenyt.jpg

The so-called paper of record ran a major story Tuesday on the country’s most infamous climate-driven pest, “Bark Beetles Kill Millions of Acres of Trees in West.” Great story, other than neglecting to mention climate change. It’d be like an article on an outbreak of avian flu that left out any discussion of birds

So we have the national “liberal” media, like the NYT and NBC, blowing this story, while the local, conservative media get it right, see “conservative San Diego Union knows climate change is killing Western forests” and “Oldest Utah newspaper: Bark-beetle driven wildfires are a vicious climate cycle.”

Of course, the journal Nature understands the science, as an April article made clear: “Mountain pine beetle and forest carbon feedback to climate change.” So does the Canadian media: “Climate-Driven Pest Devours Canada’s Forests.”

The NYT did get the grim, superficial facts of the story right:

From New Mexico to British Columbia, the region’s signature pine forests are succumbing to a huge infestation of mountain pine beetles that are turning a blanket of green forest into a blanket of rust red. Montana has lost a million acres of trees to the beetles, and in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming the situation is worse.

“We’re seeing exponential growth of the infestation,” said Clint Kyhl, director of a Forest Service incident management team in Laramie, Wyo., that was set up to deal with the threat of fire from dead forests. Increased construction of homes in forest areas over the last 20 years makes the problem worse.

Yeah, home building is the cause of this problem — that’s why in Alaska, “over three million acres of forest land has been devastated by the beetle,” as senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) described in a May 2006 speech on climate change. Seriously, that is pretty much the only explanation the NYT story offers, although the accompanying video does inch much closer to the truth, strangely enough.

The video blames the explosion of bark beetles on extended drought and warming winters — but fails to point out that both of those are predicted consequences of global warming. The video does point out, “The beetle problem can also worsen global warming!” Amazing. Back to the story:

In Wyoming and Colorado in 2006 there were a million acres of dead trees. Last year it was 1.5 million. This year it is expected to total over two million. In the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, the problem is most severe. It is the largest known insect infestation in the history of North America, officials said. British Columbia has lost 33 million acres of lodgepole pine forest, and a freak wind event last year blew mountain pine beetles, a species of bark beetle, over the Continental Divide to Alberta. Experts fear that the beetles could travel all the way to the Great Lakes.

If only we had a clue why this was all happening, and what it all means….

Wildfire is the biggest threat. Some towns like Steamboat Springs and Vail, Colo., are surrounded by dead forests, and the Forest Service and logging companies are clear-cutting “defensible space” so firefighters have a place to fight fires.

After the trees die, the risk of crown fires that move through the canopy is the threat. After four or five years, as the dead trees fall to the ground, the threat of catastrophic fire is most severe. Fires in the piles of logs severely damage soils, prevent regrowth and cause mudslides.

You won’t be surprised to learn that the NYT has repeatedly run stories on wildfires and droughts that never mention global warming (see “The NY Times Blows the Wildfire Story” and “The NY Times Blows the Drought Story, too.“)

The end of this sad story is especially poignant:

The West that depends on tourism, meanwhile, wonders what their customers will think about the dramatic change in scenery. Four million visitors a year come for sightseeing and recreation to Grand County in Colorado, where much of the forest is now dead. “What happens,” said Ray Jennings, director of emergency management for Grand County, “if this becomes an ugly place to be?”

That could well be an epitaph for the whole damn country if Big Media continues to fail in what should be one of its central tasks today, explaining to the public that climate change is hitting this country hard right now — making droughts longer and stronger, spreading pests, destroying forests, driving the worst wildfire seasons in recorded history.

I hope the new Obama administration recognizes that educating the public — and perhaps even educating the media — on the painful reality of global warming must be one of its top priorities. More on that later.

[Note: Regular readers can skip the rest of this post. For those who haven't read one of my previous stories on the bark beetle, I'm going to repeat my discussion on what scientists understand about the causes.]

Global warming has created a perfect climate for these beetles — Milder winters since 1994 have reduced the winter death rate of beetle larvae in Wyoming from 80% per year to under 10%, and hotter, drier summers have made trees weaker, less able to fight off beetles.

“The pine beetle infestation is the first major climate change crisis in Canada” notes Doug McArthur, a professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. “We’re seeing changes in [mountain pine beetle] activity from Canada to Mexico,” said Forest Service researcher Jesse Logan in July 2004 (here), “and the common thing is warming temperatures.”

A 2005 study, led by the University of Arizona, with Los Alamos National Laboratory and the U.S. Geological Survey, “Regional vegetation die-off in response to global-change-type drought,” examined a huge three-million acre die-off of vegetation in 2002-2003 “in response to drought and associated bark beetle infestations” in the Four Corners area (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah). This drought was not quite as dry as the one in that region in the 1950s, but it was much warmer, hence it was a global-warming-type drought. The recent drought had “nearly complete tree mortality across many size and age classes” whereas “most of the patchy mortality in the 1950s was associated with trees [greater than] 100 years old.”

Most of this tree death was caused by bark beetle infestation, and “such outbreaks are tightly tied to drought-induced water stress.” Healthy trees defend themselves by drowning the tiny pine beetles in resin. Without water, weakened, parched trees are easy meals for bugs.

One final note: This catastrophic climate change impact and its carbon-cycle feedback were not foreseen even a decade ago — which suggests future climate impacts will bring other equally unpleasant surprises, especially if we don’t reverse our emissions path immediately.

But how are we ever going to get the political will to reverse our emissions path and avoid even worse climate-driven catastrophes in the future if the media won’t even explain to the public how human-caused climate change is already changing their lives for the worse today. What’s next for the NYT — a story on the obesity epidemic that doesn’t talk about food?

Don’t worry too much about the beetle, though. As Nature reported:

“The beetle will eat itself out of house and home, and the population will eventually collapse.”

Hmm. “Eat itself out of house and home.” Does the bark beetle sound like any other species we know? Finally, the species formerly known as homo sapiens sapiens is no longer alone in its self-destructive quest to destroy its habitat.

He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.”

What happens if this becomes an ugly place to be?

“The science is beyond dispute… Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response.”

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42 Responses to The New York Times blows the bark beetle story

  1. rpauli says:

    For a newspaper printed on dead trees – you would think they might be smarter.

  2. Joe says:

    Hmm. Maybe they want more trees to die….
    And by the time all the trees are dead, so will print media…

  3. paulm says:

    Long live the blog.

  4. David B. Benson says:

    Well, another view is that the primary problem has been fire supression by the Forest Service. This let the even-age stand, eventually food for lotsa bark beetles.

    True, drought helped weaken the trees, but this only caused the problem to be manifested somewhat earlier than without a drought.

    Finally, the American West has been prone to droughts throughtout the Holocene. The current one has probably been enhanced by AGW, but the attribution is rather diffcult to do completely convincingly. Why? Not enough AGW yet.

    It’ll come. :-(

  5. alex says:

    Given the relatively small temperature increases due to climate change it is a bit of a stretch to blame the latest beetle infestation on it. There are many other factors at play.

    Climate change has hardly got started yet. In 50 or 100 years the predicted temperature rises are something like 10x what we have today.

    [JR: You have to read the links and the literature. This infestation is unprecedented because of longer droughts PLUS warmer winters.]

  6. David B. Benson says:

    Correction: I don’t actually know that the American West has been been prone to droughts thoughout the entire Holocene; I only suspect this is true based primarily on archaeological data, mostly from the last 1200 years or so.

  7. Auden says:

    There’s an even darker component to this story that’s occuring in the Rocky Mountain west, where I live, (and where I had to cut down all the trees in my yard a few years ago to reduce fire danger because beetles killed them.) The problem (and this is aided by the press) is that the beetle kill is something people understand. It’s tangible, and it’s something people feel they should do something about, “fix,” take action on. Even though by the time trees start to die, the beetle has been in town for two years, and it’s too late. And even though these beetle kills are a natural forest cycle, albeit currently exacerbated by climate. But the result of this eminently tangible problem is that western communities are throwing huge financial and manpower resources at “solving” the problem (ok, fire mitigation is acceptable, but beyond that, what are you going to do? Log the whole forest?) instead of what they should be doing, which is throwing huge financial and manpower resources at regional climate mitigation and renewable energy efforts combined with lobbying to make state and federal policy more agressive. It could be that the last great act we do, the last expression of meeting Churchill’s prediction that “Americans can be counted on to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all other options,” is that we solve the bark beetle problem through forestry management. That should take about ten years, and when we are done, it will be too late to solve climate. My point, after this rant: we need to throw all our resources, now, at the cause of the problem, not the symptom, because we don’t have time to waste on diversions.

  8. Dan Borroff says:

    I’m a landscape designer who does some ecological restoration work in Washington state. I’ve been in the business for 30 years. We’ve only experienced a degree of change in temperature here but the impacts have been ominous.

    30 years ago there were certain plants that could be relied upon to die in freezes that occurred every other year. You could cover them with a blanket in cold snaps and get them through the winter – but only if you didn’t miss a single freeze. 15 years ago that began to change noticeably. Lots of gardeners and landscape professionals alike began to notice that exotic plants from California, southern Europe, New Zealand and Australia would make it through winters with only minor damage.

    A friend organized a conference on global warming for some local gardening clubs – amateur and professional. The venue sold out – 300 people for an all day event. Our local weather and climate specialists told it like it is, no punches pulled. There was not a peep of disagreement from the audience. All of us knew from our extended time spent outdoors that something had changed.

    Now we’re growing bananas outside. Tree ferns need a minor wrap. This year my winter blooming Camellias are doing there thing 2 months ahead of schedule. On the dry side of the state water wars are warming up, millions of acres of forest are disappearing, and lack of snowpack in the mountains is killing trees and exacerbating flooding.

    The economic impact is already being felt, but the populace in general does not have the capacity to put the whole picture together. Folks on the east side of the Cascade crest are not hearing about changes on the west side – and vice versa. It is a major failure of a timid media.

    We simply don’t need more facts. We need more effective communication and folks putting the effort into finding and connecting the stories in a way that will capture the attention of millions.

    Too bad that Michael Crichton’s ‘State of Denial’ was so effective at realizing it’s title.

  9. caerbannog says:


    Well, another view is that the primary problem has been fire supression by the Forest Service. This let the even-age stand, eventually food for lotsa bark beetles.

    Of course, that doesn’t account for the *33 million* acres of dead/dying trees in British Columbia. There has been less fire suppression and much heavier logging activity in BC than in the US Rockies. A few minutes with GoogleEarth will show how heavily logged the interior BC region is.

    It ain’t the even-aged stands — that’s perfectly natural for lodgepole-pine forests. It’s the climate-change.

    Lodgepole-pine forests historically haven’t burned that often (typically once every century or two). So although fire-supression over the past 80 years or so has greatly impacted low-elevation ponderosa forests, it hasn’t impacted high-elevation lodgepole forests very much.

  10. Ian Forrester says:

    “The current outbreak is progressing as one might expect, considering the relatively mild winters that have been experienced since the mid 1980s and the generally favourable (to mountain pine beetle development) summer weather patterns. The outbreak is likely to continue until an early cold winter kills overwintering larvae. In fact, it was two back-to-back unseasonably cold fall periods in 1984 and 1985 that caused the collapse of the Cariboo-Chilcotin outbreak. In both of those years, early sustained temperatures in the -30 to -40°C were experienced”.

    http://mpb.cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/biology/biology_e.html

    From personal experience the winter temperatures in Western Canada are far higher than they were twenty years ago. For example, today is the first day this winter that day-time temperature in Calgary has not got above freezing!!

  11. paulm says:

    We can use robots to solve Climate Change..

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1S-fmKqwa98

    Human-Robot Interaction created by the Bristol Robotics Laboratory of the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol.

  12. Charlie says:

    What I want to know is what is going on at the NYT that leads to this kind of thing? Is it just cluelessness or is there a particular reluctance to address global warming?

  13. Charlie, when it comes to journalists and science, cluelessness is always a safe answer.

  14. Anna Haynes says:

    > what is going on at the NYT that leads to this kind of thing?

    Larry and Charlie (and Joe), I was curious about this instance too, so I contacted the author (a freelancer who’d written a previous bark beetle devastation” article for the Times, 4 years ago, in which the influence of climate change was covered much more thoroughly) to ask if he’d had pressure and/or editing from the Times to downplay the climate influence this time. He said no -

    “No real reason for downplaying the warming angle
    besides the fact it is well covered and that the beetle story was such a
    big picture piece that it was tough to get it all in. The Times is pretty
    good on the warming stuff, but also careful not to repeat themselves.”
    (reprinted with permission)

    Maybe the Q to ask the NYTimes editors, is whether repeating themselves might be a good idea for an issue of this magnitude.

    A request for y’all – Joe Romm especially – my community’s local radio station had Robert C. Balling Jr on, the other night – I’m hoping you can articulate better (and more concisely) than I can, how this does/doesn’t serve the station’s listeners.
    (comments solicited, on the most recent post on my blog)

  15. David B. Benson says:

    caerbannog — Thanks for the elevation reminder. However, interior BC is not so much elevated as further north; I suppose supression of unusually cold winters probably helps out the bark beetles.

    Another possiblity is that the bark beetles are evolving faster than their food trees’ defenses.

  16. Bob Wallace says:

    “The current outbreak is progressing as one might expect, considering the relatively mild winters that have been experienced since the mid 1980s ….”

    Here’s a nice visual of how winter minimums are moving north in the US.

    http://www.nwf.org/gardenersguide/gardenzone.cfm

    As you move the slider from 1990 toward 2006 you can see areas of the country change to a warmer, dryer zone.

  17. Milan says:

    Anarticle in Nature suggests that the pine beetle epidemic in British Columbia has turned the forests there into net carbon emitters:

    “In the team’s model, a pine forest untouched by beetles but with a normal amount of logging is a slight carbon sink, sucking up more carbon (as carbon dioxide) than it loses (either as carbon dioxide or as timber). The only exception to this is when forest fires convert the forest to a net source, as they did in 2003. The beetles have an even bigger effect — in their worst year releasing 50% more carbon than the 2003 fires — and act over longer time scales, with additional logging making things even worse.”

    According to Werner Kurz, Natural Resources Canada’s senior research scientist, the total emissions associated with the outbreak will be about 990 megatonnes by 2020 – about 1.5 years worth of total Canadian emissions at present levels.

  18. Bob Wallace says:

    Don’t understand that quote.

    Timber/lumber should be carbon sequestered, at least for many years.

    Logging might cause some increase in carbon decrease as it takes fossil fuel to harvest and transport, and burning slash puts carbon back into the atmosphere more rapidly than natural decomposition. But when harvesting mature trees there is an awful lot of mass hauled off to be “stored” in buildings….

  19. Milan says:

    From the article:

    “Fredeen thinks that salvage logging might also contribute to increased carbon dioxide emissions, as it can disturb the forest-floor plant life. “You have all of the shrubs, the moss, lichen; you have a lot of photosynthetic surface that’s unperturbed by the mountain pine beetle,” he says. “When you clear cut, of course, all of that is removed.” Carbon dioxide monitoring stations above infested areas have, in their first year, shown a six-fold increase in carbon released above logged plots compared to infested areas left to decay, Fredeen says.”

  20. David B. Benson says:

    Milan — Thank you for the quotation.

  21. Thanks, Anna, for the followup on why the article did not mention GW. I will take him at his word, but his response raises several other questions. How many people who read the first article still remember it? Indeed, how many readers of the current article read the first one? Isn’t four years long enough to mention the link to GW without seeming overly repetitive?

    I know the Times does not view itself fundamentally as a GW promoter, but an effective tactic of deniers is to repeat their points over and over until it has a significant effect. Our statewide paper, eg, always puts the phrase,”which some scientists claim cause global warming,” after the words, “greenhouse gases,” anytime those words appear in an article from the NYT or any other source. They do this without fail.

  22. alex says:

    Joe

    “[JR: You have to read the links and the literature. This infestation is unprecedented because of longer droughts PLUS warmer winters.]”

    The Nature article is mainly about the fact that dead forests turn them from carbon sinks into carbon sources. The abstract does say “Climate change has contributed to the unprecedented extent and severity of this outbreak”, quoting a reference to another paper, but I don’t have a subscription to check this out.

    The other links are to media articles. I treat these with a pinch of salt.

    The Swiss Re pdf isn’t a scientific paper either. In the bibliography it has 12 references to articles and papers dealing with bark beetles, but none of them make a clear cause-and-effect statement about climate change causing outbreaks and none of them are in the peer reviewed literature.

  23. Joe says:

    Start here:

    The current outbreak of mountain pine beetle in western Canada is an order of magnitude greater in area than previous outbreaks owing to the increased area of susceptible host (mature pine stands) and favourable climate4 (see also Supplementary Fig. 3). An expansion in climatically suitable habitat for the mountain pine beetle, including reduced minimum winter temperature, increased summer temperatures and reduced summer precipitation, during recent decades has facilitated expansion of the outbreak northward and into higher elevation forests4, 10. This range expansion, combined with an increase in the extent of the host, has resulted in an outbreak of unprecedented scale and severity. By the end of 2006, the cumulative outbreak area was 130,000 km2 (many stands being attacked in multiple years), with tree mortality ranging from single trees to most of a stand in a single year11. Timber losses are estimated to be more than 435 million m3, with additional losses outside the commercial forest12. The forest sector has responded by increasing harvest rates and reallocating some harvest, increasing the pine portion of the provincial total volume harvested from 31% to 45% over four years (2001–2004).

    Climate change will have impacts on insect distribution and abundance either directly via effects on their life cycles or indirectly via host–plant defences, the abundance of natural enemies or interactions with competitors18. For some forest insects, the outcome may be changes in: outbreak frequencies or duration; rates of herbivory and damage; ranges, and associations with host species 11, 19. Evidence for climate-change-related increases in the extent or severity of forest insect disturbance has begun to accumulate. In north-western North America, warmer temperatures have halved the time required to reproduce for the spruce beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis Kirby, Coleoptera: Curculionidae, Scolytinae) and have contributed to unprecedented damage to spruce forests20. In the western United States, warmer annual temperatures have caused an altitudinal shift in the range of habitats, allowing the mountain pine beetle to invade high-elevation pine forests21. Insect impacts have, however, generally been ignored in large-scale carbon budget modelling studies22, 23 because data on insect impacts covering large areas are expensive to collect and are therefore not widely available24. Moreover, complex modelling approaches are required to adequately represent the impacts of insects on stand- and landscape-level forest ecosystem dynamics. This failure to account for insect impacts may have resulted in overestimation in previous studies of the potential for forests to offset anthropogenic CO2.

    Other insects, such as eastern spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana Clemens, Lepidoptera: Tortricidae) and forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria Hubner, Lepidoptera: Lasiocampidae) also exhibit outbreaks during which they affect forest carbon dynamics by reducing growth and increasing tree mortality over large areas25. Other forms of disturbance, such as fires, also markedly influence terrestrial carbon budgets26. Significant climate warming has already allowed the mountain pine beetle to expand its range into formerly climatically unsuitable habitats4, 21. Future projected warming could facilitate further range expansion. Insect outbreaks, together with fires, could put North American forest carbon sinks at risk27. Disturbances are one of the principal drivers of the carbon budget in northern forests26, and this study shows but one example of how climate change can affect disturbance regimes for which impacts on the global carbon cycle then provide strong positive feedback to the global climate system.

    References

    1. Amman, G. D. & Cole, W. E. in Mountain Pine Beetle Dynamics in Lodgepole Pine Forests Part II: Population Dynamics. General Technical Report No. GTR-INT-145 (United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Ogden, 1983)
    2. Safranyik, L., Shrimpton, D. & Whitney, H. in Management of Lodgepole Pine to Reduce Losses from the Mountain Pine Beetle. Technical Report 1 (Environment Canada, Canadian Forestry Service, Victoria, 1974)
    3. Taylor, S. W. & Carroll, A. L. in Mountain Pine Beetle Symposium: Challenges and Solutions BC-X-399 (eds Shore, T. L., Brooks, J. E. & Stone, J. E.) 41–51 (Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Victoria, 2004)
    4. Taylor, S. W., Carroll, A. L., Alfaro, R. I. & Safranyik, L. in The Mountain Pine Beetle: A Synthesis of Biology, Management and Impacts in Lodgepole Pine (eds Safranyik, L. & Wilson, B.) 67–94 (Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Victoria, 2006)
    5. Nemani, R. R. et al. Climate-driven increases in global terrestrial net primary production from 1982 to 1999. Science 300, 1560–1563 (2003) | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |
    6. Carroll, A. L., Taylor, S. W., Regniere, J. & Safranyik, L. in Mountain Pine Beetle Symposium: Challenges and Solutions. Report number BC-X-399 (eds Shore, T. L., Brooks, J. E. & Stone, J. E.) 223–232 (Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Victoria, 2004)
    7. Mattson, W. J. & Addy, N. D. Phytophagous insects as regulators of forest primary productivity. Science 190, 515–522 (1975)
    8. Parkins, J. R. & McKendrick, N. A. Assessing community vulnerability: a study of the mountain pine beetle outbreak in British Columbia, Canada. Glob. Environ. Chang. 17, 460–471 (2007) | Article |
    9. Volney, W. J. A. & Fleming, R. A. Climate change and impacts of boreal forest insects. Agr. Ecosys. Env. 82, 283–294 (2000) | Article |
    10. Williams, D. W. & Liebhold, A. M. Climate change and the outbreak ranges of two North American bark beetles. Agr. For. Ent. 4, 87–99 (2002) | Article |
    11. Westfall, J. 2006 Summary of Forest Health Conditions in British Columbia (British Columbia Ministry of Forests and Range, Victoria, 2007)
    12. Walton, A. et al. Provincial-Level Projection of the Current Mountain Pine Beetle Outbreak left fencehttp://www.for.gov.bc.ca/hre/bcmpb/Year4.htmright fence (British Columbia, Ministry of Forest and Range, Victoria, 2007)
    13. Environment Canada. National Inventory Report, 1990–2005: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada. left fencehttp://www.ec.gc.ca/pdb/ghg/inventory_report/2005_report/tdm-toc_eng.cfmright fence. (Environment Canada, Gatineau, 2007)
    14. Hamann, A. & Wang, T. Potential effects of climate change on ecosystem and tree species distribution in British Columbia. Ecology 87, 2773–2786 (2006) | Article | PubMed |
    15. Amiro, B. D. et al. Direct carbon emissions from Canadian forest fires, 1959–1999. Can. J. For. Res. 31, 512–525 (2001) | Article | ChemPort |
    16. Canadell, J. G. et al. in Terrestrial Ecosystems in a Changing World (eds Canadell, J. G., Pataki, D. E. & Pitkelka, L. F.) 59–78 (Springer, Berlin, 2007)
    17. Denman, K. L. et al. in Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (eds Solomon, S. et al.) 499–587 (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2007)
    18. Ayres, M. P. & Lombardero, M. J. Assessing the consequences of global change for forest disturbance from herbivores and pathogens. Sci. Total Environ. 262, 263–286 (2000) | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |
    19. Kurz, W. A., Apps, M. J., Stocks, B. J. & Volney, W. J. A. in Biotic Feedbacks in the Global Climatic System: Will the Warming Feed the Warming? (eds Woodwell, G. M. & Mackenzie, F. T.) 119–133 (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 1995)
    20. Berg, E. E., Henry, J. D., Fastie, C. L., De Volder, A. D. & Matsuoka, S. M. Spruce beetle outbreaks on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, and Kluane National Park and Reserve, Yukon Territory: relationship to summer temperatures and regional differences in disturbance regimes. For. Ecol. Manage. 227, 219–232 (2006) | Article |
    21. Logan, J. A. & Powell, J. A. Ghost forests, global warming, and the mountain pine beetle (Coleoptera: Scolytidae). Am. Ent. 47, 160–173 (2001)
    22. McGuire, A. D. et al. Carbon balance of the terrestrial biosphere in the twentieth century: analyses of CO2, climate and land use effects with four process-based ecosystem models. G. Biogeoch. Cycles 15, 183–206 (2001) | Article | ChemPort |
    23. Myneni, R. B. et al. A large carbon sink in the woody biomass of northern forests. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 98, 14784–14789 (2001) | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |
    24. Wulder, M. A., Dymond, C. C., White, J. C., Leckie, D. G. & Carroll, A. L. Surveying mountain pine beetle damage of forests: a review of remote sensing opportunities. For. Ecol. Manage. 221, 27–41 (2001)
    25. Berryman, A. A. Dynamics of Forest Insect Populations: Patterns, Causes, Implications (Plenum, New York, 1988)
    26. Bond-Lamberty, B., Peckham, S. D., Ahl, D. E. & Gower, S. T. Fire as the dominant driver of central Canadian boreal forest carbon balance. Nature 450, 89–92 (2007) | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |
    27. Kurz, W. A., Stinson, G. & Rampley, G. Could increased boreal forest ecosystem productivity offset carbon losses from increased disturbances? Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. doi: doi: 10.1098/rstb.2007.2198 (2007) | Article |
    28. Kurz, W. A., Apps, M. J., Webb, T. M. & McNamee, P. J. The Carbon Budget of the Canadian Forest Sector: Phase I. Information Report NOR-X-326 (Forestry Canada, Northwest Region, Northern Forestry Centre, Edmonton, 1992)
    29. Kurz, W. A. & Apps, M. J. A 70-year retrospective analysis of carbon fluxes in the Canadian forest sector. Ecol. Appl. 9, 526–547 (1999) | Article | ISI |
    30. Kull, S. et al. Operational-Scale Carbon Budget Model of the Canadian Forest Sector (CBM-CFS3) Version 1.0: User’s Guide (Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Edmonton, 2006)

  24. J says:

    50% of pine dead now in British Columbia. Some 80% expected to be dead in 5 years. *More than 20,000 square miles of forest.* Google Earth photos show you, it’s like the Hindenberg.

    “What we really need is a really cold winter, that would stop it dead. But we don’t get those anymore.”

    Standing forests are extremely risky as carbon reservoirs. As Smokey the Bear says, Only You Can Prevent Massive Unanticipated Carbon Release. Look at Alaska for examples in recent years.

    Tragic. And absolutely appalling that the Times could miss so badly.

  25. Bob Wallace says:

    I don’t think the Times missed it “so badly”.

    The article was about dead trees and bugs. The house part was about the difficulties for foresters/fire fighters because people (like me) have been building in areas not previously used for human habitat.

    The drought, “hard winters have softened” inclusions all say “global climate change” to me.

    Could they have pushed global climate change harder? Sure….

  26. Anna Haynes says:

    > Could they have pushed global climate change harder? Sure….

    it would have been difficult to have pushed it softer.

    The more I chew on this, the more I think that “The Times is pretty
    good on the warming stuff, but also careful not to repeat themselves” is the key.

    Does anyone recall if this (“don’t repeat yourself”) was also the NY Times’s approach to tobacco coverage, back in the day? (and were they taking full-page ads for tobacco companies back then, the way they’ve been doing this year for Exxon?)

    Argh. Too many interesting questions…

    But if someone wanted to contact Laura Chang, the Times’s science editor, to discuss & defend their coverage philosophy, I for one would be a very interested reader and/or participant.
    Or Clark Hoyt, to ask if we might converse with Ms. Chang.

  27. Anna Haynes says:

    Were magazines ahead of newspapers in covering the tobacco denial industry, as they are now in covering the global warming denial industry?

  28. Bob Wallace says:

    I’m not familiar with the details of the Time’s readership.

    Any chance that their reader ranks are essentially free of deniers? This is not the Times-Picayune.

    Perhaps it’s a safe assumption on the part of their authors/editors to feel that one doesn’t have to restate that the earth isn’t flat, that man can fly, and man-made global climate change started quite a long time ago.

  29. alex says:

    Joe

    Thanks for the excerpt from the Nature paper (I assume that was what it was). The point about range expansion due to favourable climatic conditions does not really come across in the abstract, so perhaps that was why the NYT did not pick up on it:

    *************************************************************
    The mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins, Coleoptera: Curculionidae, Scolytinae) is a native insect of the pine forests of western North America, and its populations periodically erupt into large-scale outbreaks1, 2, 3. During outbreaks, the resulting widespread tree mortality reduces forest carbon uptake and increases future emissions from the decay of killed trees. The impacts of insects on forest carbon dynamics, however, are generally ignored in large-scale modelling analyses. The current outbreak in British Columbia, Canada, is an order of magnitude larger in area and severity than all previous recorded outbreaks4. Here we estimate that the cumulative impact of the beetle outbreak in the affected region during 2000–2020 will be 270 megatonnes (Mt) carbon (or 36 g carbon m-2 yr-1 on average over 374,000 km2 of forest). This impact converted the forest from a small net carbon sink to a large net carbon source both during and immediately after the outbreak. In the worst year, the impacts resulting from the beetle outbreak in British Columbia were equivalent to 75% of the average annual direct forest fire emissions from all of Canada during 1959–1999. The resulting reduction in net primary production was of similar magnitude to increases observed during the 1980s and 1990s as a result of global change5. Climate change has contributed to the unprecedented extent and severity of this outbreak6. Insect outbreaks such as this represent an important mechanism by which climate change may undermine the ability of northern forests to take up and store atmospheric carbon, and such impacts should be accounted for in large-scale modelling analyses.
    *************************************************************

    It is worrying that such a small temperature increase can cause such profound changes (although not unexpected). How will the biosphere react to an increase of 6 degress? I don’t think anyone really knows, but anyone with young children should be thinking really hard about it.

  30. Anna Haynes says:

    re Bob’s
    “Any chance that their (NYTimes) reader ranks are essentially free of deniers? This is not the Times-Picayune.”

    Bob, I would *love* to be able to see an NYTimes reader survey on this. I agree, without this info we’re just spouting faith-based talking points.

    I want this info.

    Perhaps the upcoming citizen-journalist venture of the Huffington Post could take something like this on as a project…?

  31. Gail Zawacki says:

    At last, I have found a writer who isn’t pulling punches about the effects of climate change.

    I am still waiting for someone of influence to notice, never mind explain, the fast accelerating decline of Eastern forests. I live in New Jersey and it is apparent to me that close observation of tree conditions leads to the terrifying conclusion that virtually every species, coniferous and deciduous, is dying, and dying fast. Evergreens are yellowing, and losing needles, and covered with cones in a desperate effort to reproduce. Maples, hickory, sycamore, catalpa and locust all had leaves that were singed, brown and dropping by August, and limbs and bark are falling off.

    Sure, some is attributable to pests and disease, but because the effects are so broad, I believe it is due to warmth and dryness, particularly the lack of snow, which should provide a slow, permeating source of water. Instead we get short heavy bursts of precipitation.

    The consequences of the death of trees in NJ, and no doubt, PA, NY, CT and RI at the least, are disastrous. Birds and other wildlife will lose their habitat and become extinct. All the plants adapted to the understory will perish. Wildfires will occur. There will be vast power outages due to falling trees.

    I think the reaction to the coming (and soon!) meltdown of our ecosystem, when it finally becomes apparent, will rival if not eclipse the handwringing that accompanies the financial meltdown.

    I can only hope the Obama administration will respond with more effectiveness.

    Thank you for this article and if anyone has anything to say about the issue, I would love to hear from you at witsendnj@yahoo.com. My children think I’m batshit crazy.

  32. Steve Bloom says:

    For Joe and Anna:

    It turns out it’s beetles all the way down.

    It’s great to see stories like this, which as Anna will know are getting more common in Northern California local media, but note that there’s no mention of the pine beetles.

    I also spotted this story focusing on a specific pine species.

    Nature understands synergy even if the media don’t.

  33. Anna Haynes says:

    from Steve’s first link, to Cal Academy of Sciences’s Dave Kavanaugh & “What beetles know about climate change” –
    “…went looking for replacements [beetles] in the same places he collected beetles 20 to 30 years ago. He was shocked..the beetles were either very much rarer in occurrence or weren’t there at all,…eventually discovered many beetles had moved to higher elevations and in some cases, several hundred feet higher. “I think these beetles are very, very sensitive indicators of climate change”

    One thing I’ve noticed in the last year or so (though one swallow does not a summer make, and it’s not based on widespread observation) is an increase in dwarf mistletoe infestations and in blister rust(??), on young Ponderosa Pines in formerly-good habitat.
    (this being the Sierra foothills, in western Nevada County Calif.)

  34. I caught this one, too–was even thinking of including it as an example in an on-air news analysis I did this week on Corporate Watchdog Radio* on how the media are failing to connect the dots on the climate crisis. But the NYT piece did allude to global warming in the 6th graf down, the last sentence:

    “Foresters say the historic outbreak has several causes. Because fires have been suppressed for so long, all forests are roughly the same age, and the trees are big enough to be susceptible to beetles. A decade of drought has weakened the trees. And hard winters have softened, which allows the beetles to flourish and expand their range.”

    Which just goes to show that they *know* the real cause, but are soft-pedaling it–or am I being paranoid? Maybe they figure everyone thinks like those of use who read this blog–WE know why the “hard winters are softening”!

  35. Anna Haynes says:

    Just an FYI, to anyone still reading this -

    Larry Coleman had said
    “… Isn’t four years long enough to mention the link to GW without seeming overly repetitive? ”

    and I’d agreed
    “The more I chew on this, the more I think that “The Times is pretty
    good on the warming stuff, but also careful not to repeat themselves” is the key.”

    And it’s still chewing on me, or I’m still chewing on it, or something.

    So yesterday morning I went back and pestered the NYT’s poor freelancer, asking:
    —-
    “How was this message ["The Times is... careful not to repeat themselves"] conveyed to you? and did it come from the top ( the Times’s Science editor or above), or by the guy who directly edits the Science section of the Times _under_ Laura Chang, or?

    Thanks if you could help shed light on this – I wouldn’t be asking, if it didn’t matter.”
    —-
    I sent this email to him yesterday morning; no reply yet, but if I get one, I’ll report it here.

  36. Barry says:

    Joe is 100% right.

    The reason the NY Times and others continue to “blow” the climate change stories:

    * the wealthiest 8% of humanity are responsible for 50% of GHG.

    These are the same people who staff, read and advertise in NY Times and other main stream media. Any solution to climate change is going to require all of us in the global elite to cut way back on our “luxury carbon”. As Upton Sinclair correctly quipped:

    * It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

    I believe it was Al Gore who said his experience was:

    * taxi drivers and everyday workers understand the climate crisis and what needs to be done far better than the most educated folks, media and politicians.

    The dirty secret is that the people who are most responsible…the people who most need to cut their emissions…are the last to “understand” and “act”. It is true at the national level and more importantly at the personal level.

    It is even true of the environmental community which is filled with “bright green deniers”. These are folks who know better but refuse to act in their personal lives or in their professional lives in a way they know everyone must.

    One of the most glaring example of this is the silence on data such as that compiled by Professor Pacala of Princeton. He shows the 8% to 50% connection between wealth and ghg. The only place i’ve seen this covered is here by Joe. Kudos! Oddly, Pacala’s other work (the 13 stabilization wedges) was widely covered in all media. Hmmm.

    An essential step in solving climate chaos is to make it socially unacceptable within the global elite (i.e. most of us) to continue burning “luxury carbon”.

    It’s not a morality issue…it is a mathematical fact. A tiny percentage of the population emits the vast majority of carbon. These same people hold the levers of power in media, government and biz. Most of us live at least partly in that social-economic sphere and need to insist on change from within by highlighting the facts around choice being made today between “luxury carbon” vs future civilization.

  37. David Lewis says:

    I live in British Columbia. As of September 2007 according to the Ministry of Forests there were 50,000 square miles of dead trees due to mountain pine beetle attack. Again, according to the Ministry of Forests, it takes a period of -20C in the fall or -40C in late winter throughout an affected area to stop an outbreak. BC no longer gets cold weather like this. The Premier of the province, when he is out campaigning for the carbon tax he implemented, brings up the history of this outbreak and says it has happened because of global warming. His Minister of Forests does not dispute this. Every time I go to town I look up at the mountains at dead trees.

    When the carbon tax was first enacted this summer, it was extremely unpopular. Opposition was discovered in surprising places: a majority of Green Party supporters, according to one poll, indicated they were opposed. The opposition party, a party to the left of the Democratic party in the US, exploited the resistance to higher taxes of any kind by branding the carbon tax as a “gas tax” and shouting from any rooftop they could find that they would end it. They soared in the polls to the point there is a possibility they will win the next election, to be held next spring.

    It was astonishing for me to witness the fact that it is good politics to oppose action on climate change even in a province where working in the forest is still a major industry and 50,000 square miles of the forest is dead due to climate change.

  38. Just for the record, I can offer a word of defense of the NYTimes and its professionalism, including a lack of overt bias or editorial guidance in treatment of stories and reporters. I freelanced to it a long story, which was the lead piece in early 2007 in Science Times, about mountain pine beetles, global warming, the insects’ consequent spread, grizzly bear diets, and the impact on high altitude whitebark pines. It explicitly quotes its prominent sources as blaming global warming for the beetles’ immense, recent surge. The story said GW is behind the worst conifer forest blight – in lodgepoles mainly including in BC – throughout the Intermountain West in recorded North American history. The only pressure I got was to make the piece shorter than when I first turned it in. Just go to the NYTimes site and put whitebark pines in the search box.

  39. Anna Haynes says:

    Followup to my Nov 26 2008 comment above (link), re the 2nd email I’d sent to freelancer Jim Robbins, in which I asked how the NYTimes “we don’t want to repeat ourselves” message was conveyed – I didn’t get a reply.

    Compare and contrast today’s NYTimes coverage with, e.g., 2000′s At Yellowstone, an Ecosystem Teetering on a Tree (link) (by Robbins)

    Re Charlie Petit’s comment above, his Jan 2007 NYT piece is here – In the Rockies, Pines Die and Bears Feel It (link)

    I first noticed NYT climate coverage going to hell two months later, with William J. Broad’s From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype (link).

  40. Cynthia says:

    At 1.5 degrees warming, trees are supposed to become a source of CO2 as a result of dieing off. Presently, I think we’re at about 1.3 degrees. If the arctic summer sea ice disappears, then we’re supposed to have an increase in global temperatures of around .3 degrees (from what all I’ve read). That would go over the 1.5 degrees.

    I love trees. They’re one of my favorite things. Wish there was some way we could stop all this madness!

  41. Cynthia says:

    To Gail: you asked for comments on this issue. I live in North Eastern part of the U.S. The other day, while at work, someone from next door came over and told us to look out back. We did and I couldn’t believe my eyes! There was this enormous pine tree which had just fallen over! It wasn’t a windy day. And we didn’t even hear it fall. (Maybe because of machine noise). But the thing was enormous, you couldn’t even see out back past it because it was so huge! Also, very oddly, a couple days previous to this, another tree had just fallen over and was blocking traffic. Both trees were on the same property. They had broken off at the very bottom of the trunk. Perhaps too much water, soggy ground? It does rain a lot here.