Bark Beetles Are Bad — Or Good

My thanks again to Los Angeles Times writer Bettina Boxall for another article on the complexities of biology. See:

As we noted at the beginning of last week, it’s fire season in southern California. Dead trees make much better fuel than live ones. In large part, this is because of the greater presence of water in live trees, and the extremely high specific heat (and heat of vaporization) of water. This water requires a huge amount of heat just to evaporate the water, before any real burning of the wood can take place.

But in the past several years, bark beetles — along with prolonged drought conditions — have been blamed for killing many pine trees, and thus greatly increasing the fire danger.

But now it appears that the opposite is the case! According to University of Wisconsin ecology professor Monica Turner, “It’s really counterintuitive. The beetles are good foresters, thinning the forests for us, in a way.”

Now who would have thought that? Could Nature actually be capable of taking care of Herself, without the U.S. Department of the Interior, or some other government agency to make all things well? Impossible!

Refer back a few blogs to the quote from John Muir: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” But we really don’t need Muir’s insights to see the obvious relationship between bark beetles and pine trees. If the beetles killed all the pine trees, what would they eat next? Since they’ve been “hitched” to each other by Nature for countless eons, is this concept really all that “counterintuitive”?

Other experts quoted in the article noted that the shortage of water is to blame for the increased fire danger. I’m sure glad we have experts to explain this complex stuff to us dumb folks! They also commented that, “If we chase after bark beetle outbreaks (in an attempt to reduce fire risks) … we’re going to waste very precious resources.” One way to decipher this “expert”-speak is that your tax dollars have been wasted yet again, trying to solve a problem that never existed.

So what’s the significance of today’s photo? You don’t recognize Private “Beetle” Bailey?

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