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Warming temperatures good for beetles, bad for Alaska’s forests

  • Author: Ashley Taborsky
    | Opinion
  • Updated: January 12
  • Published January 12

Spruce bark beetle-killed trees stand in the boreal forest along Knik-Goose Bay Road Tuesday, June 5, 2018. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

From the fishing industry to melting permafrost, there are many ways that our changing climate will directly affect Alaskans. In Anchorage, an immediate problem headed our way is a return of the spruce bark beetle epidemic.

Spruce bark beetles attack spruce trees, drilling underneath the tree’s bark to lay their eggs and overwinter. Hatched larvae feed on the tree, eating tunnels through the wood. When spruce bark beetle populations are at average levels, they only prey on recently downed or weak spruce. But when their population skyrockets, that means the beetles need to expand their food/reproductive source, and healthy trees fall victim, too. Spruce bark beetles can quickly kill an otherwise healthy spruce.

In 1996, spruce bark beetles affected more than 1.3 million acres of Alaska’s forest land. In South Anchorage, where many homes are surrounded by mature spruce tree forests, those dead, dry trees pose a fire hazard where there is often only one emergency exit road for an entire community.

With increasing temperatures, the spring beetle infestation period will be extended. In Alaska, it normally takes a beetle two years to complete one life cycle. But in warmer conditions, they can complete their reproductive cycle in a single season, potentially doubling their population. This increased infestation period and population boom pose a serious risk for our dense, beautiful forests. Spruce tree forests provide a home to so much of our wildlife and offer Alaskans some of the best hiking trails in the world, among countless other benefits.

Although there is little the average citizen can do to prevent infestations (most of the management is removing infested trees and not transporting spruce firewood to prevent spreading), we need to come together as a community to take an honest look at our changing climate.

Other countries and U.S. cities have already begun taking action by implementing practical solutions to deal with issues that are already in front of us. Alaska needs to stand together to combat climate change as much as possible and determine ways to mitigate any further changes, before it’s too late.

Ashley Taborsky is an Anchorage resident and blogger.

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