by Todd Myers, Director, Washington Policy Center‘s Center for the Environment, excerpted from his “Commentary on the Issues” – June 26, 2009
Recent wildfires are … cited as evidence of climate change. The National Wildlife Federation claimed that “Warmer temperatures are also to blame for the invasion of mountain pine beetles, which have already decimated over 32 million acres of forest in Washington and British Columbia.” There are problems with this claim.
Forestry scientists say the primary cause of insect infestations is that too many trees are fighting for too few nutrients and water. In many Washington forests there are many more trees per acre than hundreds of years ago. Stressed trees cannot fight off natural infestations that were manageable for centuries. While working at the State Department of Natural Resources, I spoke with many foresters and entomologists who demonstrated this very process.
Ironically, until recently, the environmental community made this very argument. Arguing for a “natural” policy of letting forest fires burn, the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance said in 2001 that “Because we have vigorously enforced a no-burn policy in these forests, many have become clogged with thick clusters of trees that could easily explode into the monstrous conflagrations…” They have since changed their tune, not based on the science, but on politics.
Warmer temperatures can increase infestation, but ignoring the role of overstocked forests, and opposing the thinning necessary to help those forests recover, demonstrates a commitment to science only when it is convenient….
There is a real risk from the increase in carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere. But a crisis mentality that relies more on fear than science is the surest path to costly solutions that fail to solve the real problem. The key question is, if some environmental activists have to rely on political distortions of the science, how sound can their arguments really be?