They may not be making many headlines these days, but the notorious, little bark beetles have not slowed down. In fact, the burrowing insects have infected more than 2.5 million acres of mountainous national forest.
But watch out bark beetle, man is finally fighting back.
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak announced the allocation of an additional $40 million to the Forest Service to combat beetle kill. Vilsak said that funding would be used to maintain forest health and public safety.
“Forest lands play a critical role in providing clean water and a healthier climate for all Americans, and the USDA is committed to protecting and preserving this important resource from pests like the bark beetle,” said Vilsack. “These funds will help address the growing threat posed by the bark beetle to millions of acres of forests across the Western United States.”
The additional funding came in response to a request made by congressional representatives from six western states whose forests have been severely compromised by the beetle. Accordingly, the beetle infestation was referred to as a “national emergency.”
Federal officials warn that swarms of dead trees could lead to catastrophic wildfires. Infected trees are also susceptible to fall, bringing down power lines, blocking thousands of miles of roads and trails and potentially injuring people—especially in areas that are commonly frequented by visitors, like Yellowstone National Park.
A study conducted in Yellowstone by environmentalists showed that a significant number of the park’s whitebark pines have been infested by the bark beetle. Louisa Wilcox of the National Resources Defense Council reported that mortality in some whitebark forests is as high as 70 percent. It was noted that the eastern edge of Yellowstone has been the hardest hit.
Looks like Congress did us backpackers a favor. The backcountry wouldn’t feel so, uh, back without abundant forest, and bark beetles are certainly no friend to the pine trees that make up most of the Western U.S.’s forest ecosystem. Let’s jut hope that 40 mil is enough to kick the bugs back for good.