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More on the science behind global warming

A dying breed: The lodge pole pines of British Columbia
Besides glaciers, the Northwest is also famous for its trees. Dense coniferous canopies of pine and spruce carpet the Cascade Range and the western Rocky Mountains. Decades of indiscriminate logging have scarred this imposing green landscape. However, many old-growth forests remain intact, especially in British Columbia.

There is nothing like walking inside these immense groves. Ferns blanket the ground. Green, yellow, and olive-colored mosses and lichens coat every tree and rock. Spiders weave silvery strands among the limbs. Fallen timbers, like wet nurses, bring new life to the forest. Pine needles and centuries-old root systems snap and bellow underfoot. The sublime sound of trees rustling in the wind is ever present. Douglas squirrels chirp merrily as they go about their work. The floor below this magnificent canopy is a world of shadows and darkness. But if you look up, a whole new world awaits. Slender spires reach gracefully towards the sun. An entirely different ecosystem governs these heights. Creation does indeed offer up an unending barrage of delights.

Enter global warming. As temperatures rise, so does the population of its most ardent cheerleaders: insects. In the past, cold winters killed off insect infestations in the forests of Washington and British Columbia. However, now insects wage war almost year-round. As we speak, one of the greatest forest kill offs the world has ever known is haunting the green canopies of British Columbia (Schoellhammer 2004). Uncontrolled pine bark beetle infestations have cut a swath of destruction the size of New England through the central regions of the province. As the beetles go about their merry way, 100-year-old lodgepole pines turn yellow, then red, then brown. Finally, the dead forest and all of its inhabitants are consumed by horrific forest fires. Two of Canada’s natural treasures, Jasper and Banff national parks, now lie in the beetles’ deadly path as they move east across the continent (Tourtellot 2006; Schneider and Root 2002). This disaster is also creating severe hardship for indigenous peoples who call these forests their home. Its economic effects are far-reaching for Canada, which is a major exporter of wood products to the United States and the rest of the world.

Essay written by Dr. Jonathan Harrington
Do not reproduce without expressed written permission from the author
2008 All rights reserved

 

More essays written by Jonathan Harrington on the environmental effects of global warming

Global warming effects on Northwest fish and wildlife

The high meadows of White Pass: Grandma’s hangout

A dying breed: The lodge pole pines of British Columbia