When I sent my “Convinced, but not Concerned” post to Don Fowler—the British Columbia forester at its center–he wrote right back, kicking off a remarkable dialogue.
Says he’s heartened to get my response. Glad to hear from others who are concerned. Claims he’s not an eloquent writer…and then—POW—writes this:
I am not an entomologist, climate scientist or even a forester, just an average guy who has made his living and recreated a lifetime in BC forests. I come at the climate change/MPB infestation from a different point of view than most.
In my “defense” I do hang with the bark beetle (bb) crowd and have known just about every good bb entomologist in the west. All very caring folks with their hands tightly bound by the bureaucracy they work for. Mostly I talk to landowners and teach Integrated Pest Management. I travel extensively and speak often on the topic(s).
I was there at the start of the previous BC bark beetle infestation the 80s (the warning) and there for the start of the mother of all bb infestations in 1999.
By 2002 what had happened to BC was unbelievable–I still have trouble finding words for it. Absurd amounts of beetles.
This is the biggest environmental event of my generation.
I am not a denier, but there is a LOT of spin in what is going on. Truth matters.
A few days later we talk on the phone—Don in Victoria BC, me in Connecticut. I ask: with the forest damage so visible, what do people say? Comments surface. “It’s not warmer, but it’s less cold.” (a head-scratcher worthy of Yogi Berra) And the grocery-aisle standard: “Nothing we can do about it anyway.”
Don asks me: How much do people out East know about what’s happening here? My very informal survey says: not much. David Letterman talked about it once on Late Night.
The disconnect between climate change and individuals…it must be someone else’s problem? Right ?
The level of activism out West is astounding. Don sends me links loaded with science and great photography.
I come across an article about an entomologist named Nancy Gillette with the U.S. Forest Service. I ask Don if he knows her. Sure he does. “She is a very thorough researcher, one of the best we have. She knows our management decisions have “enabled” the bark beetle’s populations to explode as much as climate change.”
The Canadian company Don works for, Contech (“Innovative green technology for gardens, pets and pests”), is intensely research-based. He sends me a story about my assertion that the pheromone product they make merely sends the beetles into your neighbor’s trees.
There is no science to suggest that the beetles will forage in your neighbor’s yard after being repelled (confused) by Verbenone. MPB have a finite amount of energy— the longer they “mill around” looking for a suitable host tree, they run out of energy and die or some other critter perhaps eats them. This phenomenon was witnessed by me in central BC, where stressed beetles emerged from stressed trees and attempted to fly across a lake. They crashed into the lake and the wind blew them down to one end. There were 2-3 feet of beetles along the lake end, and it was a big lake! An amazing thing to see. Happy trout it made.
My intuition about Don Fowler turned out to be more correct than I imagined. He does indeed know the stakes of climate change. He’s also teaching me about the complex range of variables involved—land management, fire management, a shrinking U.S. Forest Service.
He holds out hope for efforts that combine the 3 Ps (private & public, local & state), and he’s pushing hard for a “carbon sequestration strategy”—planting trees in large numbers. Living trees collect and store carbon.
My correspondence with Don continues, and I’ll have more in future posts. But I’ll end with the quote he uses to close his emails:
“To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a good shovel.” –Aldo Leopold