Empire of the Beetle: How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug Are Killing North America's Great Forests

Empire of the Beetle: How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug Are Killing North America's Great Forests

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by Andrew Nikiforuk
     
 

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Beginning in the late 1980s, a series of improbable bark beetle outbreaks unsettled iconic forests and communities across western North America. An insect the size of a rice kernel eventually killed more than 30 billion pine and spruce trees from Alaska to New Mexico. Often appearing in masses larger than schools of killer whales, the beetles engineered one of the

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Overview

Beginning in the late 1980s, a series of improbable bark beetle outbreaks unsettled iconic forests and communities across western North America. An insect the size of a rice kernel eventually killed more than 30 billion pine and spruce trees from Alaska to New Mexico. Often appearing in masses larger than schools of killer whales, the beetles engineered one of the world's greatest forest die-offs since the deforestation of Europe by peasants between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries.

The beetle didn't act alone. Misguided science, out-of-control logging, bad public policy, and a hundred years of fire suppression created a volatile geography that released the world's oldest forest manager from all natural constraints. Like most human empires, the beetles exploded wildly and then crashed, leaving in their wake grieving landowners, humbled scientists, hungry animals, and altered watersheds. Although climate change triggered this complex event, human arrogance assuredly set the table. With little warning, an ancient insect pointedly exposed the frailty of seemingly stable manmade landscapes. And despite the billions of public dollars spent on control efforts, the beetles burn away like a fire that can't be put out.

Drawing on first-hand accounts from entomologists, botanists, foresters, and rural residents, award-winning journalist Andrew Nikiforuk investigates this unprecedented beetle plague, its startling implications, and the lessons it holds.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Nikiforuk leavens this tragic, instructive history with curious facts about the complex, intelligent insect"—Publishers Weekly

"Sometimes called the "Katrina of the West," these infestations received very little publicity but caused the loss of millions of dollars worth of lumber ...Well written and informative... Highly Recommended"— Choice Reviews

“A terrific book on a terrifying subject... a chilling, fascinating, and important contribution to our understanding of a rapidly changing world.”— John Vaillant, author of The Tiger and The Golden Spruce

"A compelling look at what may be the single biggest impact of climate change, and a harbinger of life to come on a warming planet." —Jim Robbins, Science Journalist, The New York Times

"Empire of the Beetle is a work of great skill and passion, and vital to anyone courageous enough to be interested in the ecology of the future."—Rick Bass, author of Winter: Notes From Montana

“[T]he Iliad of the bark beetles. It really demonstrates how intertwined nature is... as Andrew shows so well, we are part of nature.”
—John Perlin, leading U.S. solar energy expert and author of A Forest Journey

Library Journal
Bark beetles: they are as tiny as a match head, individually fragile, and yet as a swarm more destructive than any forest fire. Nikiforuk (Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent) follows bark beetle outbreaks from the last three decades in Alaska and the western United States. Despite its grim title, the book paints a complex picture of bark beetles that showcases their incredible qualities as well as their potentially harmful ones. Nikiforuk argues that bark beetles are a part of western North America's natural ecosystem, but the growing human population and its demands on natural resources place the insects in the role of nuisance. As a pest, however, they are incredibly dangerous to forests and have, to date, killed more than 30 billion trees since the 1980s. VERDICT Nikiforuk tallies the human and ecological costs of bark beetles' destruction of wide swathes of trees, costs that are exacerbated by climate change. His plainspoken writing style is especially poignant as he gives voice to the devastating human experience of lost forests. Recommended.—Marianne Stowell Bracke, Purdue Univ. Libs., West Lafayette, IN

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781553655107
Publisher:
Greystone Books
Publication date:
08/23/2011
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
1,060,276
Product dimensions:
5.36(w) x 8.54(h) x 0.62(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Nikiforuk leavens this tragic, instructive history with curious facts about the complex, intelligent insect"—Publishers Weekly

"Sometimes called the "Katrina of the West," these infestations received very little publicity but caused the loss of millions of dollars worth of lumber ...Well written and informative... Highly Recommended"— Choice Reviews

“A terrific book on a terrifying subject... a chilling, fascinating, and important contribution to our understanding of a rapidly changing world.”— John Vaillant, author of The Tiger and The Golden Spruce

"A compelling look at what may be the single biggest impact of climate change, and a harbinger of life to come on a warming planet." —Jim Robbins, Science Journalist, The New York Times

"Empire of the Beetle is a work of great skill and passion, and vital to anyone courageous enough to be interested in the ecology of the future."—Rick Bass, author of Winter: Notes From Montana

“[T]he Iliad of the bark beetles. It really demonstrates how intertwined nature is... as Andrew shows so well, we are part of nature.”
—John Perlin, leading U.S. solar energy expert and author of A Forest Journey

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