Climate Change Aids Mountain Pine Beetle Outbreak in Oregon

Have you ever been driving through a mountainous region of Oregon, California, Washington, or even Colorado and seen forests splattered with patches of red and brown? Something like this…

mountain pine beetle

The_mountain_pine_beetleIt is a common sight – and one caused by one little piece-of-rice-sized bugger – the mountain pine beetle. Mountain pine beetles prey on ponderosa, whitebark, lodgepole, Scotch, jack pine, and limber pine trees. Under normal circumstances, these insects play a vital role in the life of a forest, attacking old or weakened trees, and aiding the development of a younger, healthy forest. Unusually hot, dry summers and mild winters throughout the west and Pacific NW the last few years, alongside forests full of mature lodgepole pine, have led to an unprecedented epidemic spanning the western United States and British Columbia.

Unfortunately, climate change has also contributed to the massive outbreak and in the may have significant effects on the capability of northern forests to remove greenhouse gas (CO2) from the atmosphere. Due to the impact on forestry, scientists have sequenced the genome for the mountain pine beetle in hopes of finding a way to control the outbreak.

How to look for Symptoms of the Mountain Pine Beetle?

dead pinesThe mountain pine beetle laying eggs under the bark is what initiates the problem and will eventually kill the tree, by introducing blue stain fungus into the sapwood.  This prevents the tree from stopping the attacking beetles with tree pitch flow. The fungus also blocks water and nutrient transport within the tree.

Visible on the outside of the tree are popcorn-shaped masses of resin, called “pitch tubes”, where the beetles have entered the tree. From there, it doesn’t take long to see the detrimental outcome. The combination of larval feeding and fungal colonization can kill a tree within just a few weeks.  Dramatic color shifts will begin, sometime starting at the top of the tree and working their way down. Over the next year, the color of the needles will change from green to deep red and brown like photographed. This means the tree is dying or dead, and the beetles have already moved on to another tree. 3-4 years later, the tree has so little foliage left, it may even appear grey in color.

The mountain pine beetle outbreak is devastating to large forests, as once weakened trees are overtaken and the current climate conditions are allowing even healthy trees to become victim to this vicious little insect. Putting a stop to the mountain pine beetle is surely a job for certified arborists and forest specialists. You are in luck finding us, if you think your Oregon property might be at risk give us a call.

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First photo by Hustvedt (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons


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