Earth News Journal 43: New Jersey Pines, Beetle Threat

Environmental advocates in the land of New Jersey have reached an impasse – support somewhat unconventional stewardship operations or maintain their renowned pine-coned forests with unaltered, source-only solutions – amid the crisis of the invading southern pine beetle.

A warming planet not only threatens global sea levels but also impacts the average temperatures of an ecosystem, oftentimes ridding the biome of an organic method of population control.

Typically, the southern pine beetle was prevented from inhabiting American territories in latitudes above the state of Delaware, for the creatures would perish in the frigid winter nights that would plummet eight degrees below zero. Due to the lingering effects of global climate change, the average temperature in the state of New Jersey has risen approximately 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit over the course of a century, obliterating all beetle-exterminating weather conditions since the year 1996.

Thus, the stage was set for the return of the dreaded southern pine beetle in the forests of New Jersey, a pristine sanctuary for these lumbering giants. This pest has already consumed tens of thousands of acres of pines along the Eastern American shoreline and is currently marching upward and onward, burrowing itself in the flesh of trees, rooting for nutrients and starving the pines from the inside out.

Healthy pine trees can withstand such obtrusion, secreting a sticky sap-like substance that drowns the beetle in its borrowed, hollowed home. Nonetheless, a gargantuan army of raging invaders is enough to devastate even the sturdiest of forests.

Matthew P. Ayres of Dartmouth attests that these beetles “kill trees in the way wolves kill a moose – they do it by numbers.” Though recent studies suggest that the beetles may be advancing at such rates because of “overstocked strands” and a lack of naturally-burning fires to keep the forests in check.

Tightly-packed trees are at a severe disadvantage to those undisturbed pine havens, for “the trees are too stressed fighting one another for light, water, and nutrients” to ward off such pests as the southern pine beetle. A proposed solution to these “overgrown, unnatural condition[s]” is a more aggressive approach to forest management, though several local environmental organizations cite large-scale logging as a possible, detrimental outcome.

Currently, the state is operating under the direct-attack approach to the control of the beetle – slashing pines that have already become diseased, hoping to confine the beetles to the southern portion of the state, away from the “heart of the Pinelands” in the north. Though as climatic warming continues, warns Dr. Ayres, “nothing would stop [the beetles] from eventually heading up the coast.” A formidable prediction that would devastate a substantial portion of the last remaining old-growth forests in America.

Reflection

It appears to me that when humans begin tampering with the natural law and order of Mother Nature, the repercussions are often deadly, destructive, and maybe even devoid of complete recovery. The peoples of New Jersey have seemingly taken the care and consideration of their local pine trees with much heart, protecting the lands through legislation from outside threats. Though the discontinued use of fire as a natural cleanser and the isolated pockets of dense strands leads me to wonder if these forests would have been better off unprotected. Fire, a mesmerizing and tantalizing element, has its critical uses, despite its all-destroying face value. The removal of decaying or sickly trees by such ground and surface fires allows the surrounding ecosystem to reevaluate its entire domain – think of it like an earthly haircut, so to speak. Without such selective removal of trees, the forest becomes a dense, overcrowded arena, not a healthy habitat for its denizens. I can understand the trepidation behind those environmental activists who view selective logging or fire-control to be a dangerous gateway to perhaps even deadlier consequences. However, I am in favor of returning our Earth to a state of natural balance. Examine the ecosystems, study the populations – find out exactly how the land was functioning before human bombardment and attempt to return the Earth to its former state of glory. Undeniably, all habitats undergo succession, ultimately experiencing changes in the regional rhythm of life. But we humans don’t need to speed up this process. Nature is calculated, precise in her arrival, and unwavering in her impact. Who are we to argue with her uncanny ability to sustain life, for millions upon millions of years? 

Gills, Justin. “In New Jersey Pines, Trouble Arrives on Six Legs.” The New York Times. 1 Dec. 2013. Web. 20 May 2014.

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