Year 2, Month 11, Day 10: That’s Not A Feature. That’s A Bug.

The Seattle Times has another go at the mountain pine beetle and its continuing assault on the region’s pine trees:

SAWTOOTH RIDGE, Okanogan County — The bug lady scoots through stick-straight lodgepole and ponderosa, and marches uphill toward the gnarled trunk of a troubled species: the whitebark pine.

The ghostly conifers found on chilly, wind-swept peaks like this may well be among the earliest victims of a warming climate. Even in the Northwest, rising temperatures at higher elevations have brought hundreds of thousands of whitebark pines in contact with a deadly predator — the mountain pine beetle — that is helping drive this odd tree toward extinction.

Connie Mehmel, with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, is one of a handful of entomologists struggling to track the beetles’ destructive path.

Mountain pine beetles are probably best-known here as the trunk-girdling devils that have reddened and deadened millions of acres of lodgepole, exposing the Northwest to a greater potential for cataclysmic wildfires. But the evolutionary history of lodgepole pine and beetles is so intertwined that those forests in many places are expected to grow back.

Whitebark pines may not.

I used the invasive species = illegal immigrants angle before, but it’s been a while. Sent November 6:

As climate change continues to transform local and regional ecosystems, we’ll see more invasive species on the move. The dying whitebark pine is one example of a planet-wide phenomenon.

Given conservative Republicans’ near-obsessive fixation on illegal immigration, this would seem to be an issue on which they could find common ground with environmental activists. Few of the unwanted aliens that keep tea-party xenophobes up at night wreak as much havoc on the lives of good honest Americans as the mountain pine beetle. Similarly, when insect carriers of tropical diseases move across our national borders, the public health crises they create are obvious examples of the damage wrought by illegal aliens. Hell, those malarial mosquitoes probably don’t even speak English!

But invasive species like the mountain pine beetle and white pine blister rust are genuine threats, not props for electoral posturing. Which means they’ll probably be ignored until it’s too late.

Warren Senders