Gov. Schweitzer: Pine Beetle Problem Here to Stay

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer, speaking to land use managers, said that state and federal agencies must tell the public that the scarred forests left behind by voracious pine beetles will remain for years.

Millions of acres of forest land in the state is affected by the pine beetles, which kill trees in large swaths. The trees turn red as they die, leaving behind a stark landscape that once was green.

Schweitzer, speaking to a group of land-use managers from state and federal agencies this week, said that only so much can be done. He said, for example, more logging will help, but points out that industry is only capable of making a dent in the problem at this point.

He said Montana’s landscape has been forever changed.

“At the rate we’re going, our children will have a different landscape than we had in Montana,” Schweitzer said. “I don’t know that we have all the solutions.

“Part of what our challenge is here, is to prepare Montana for the inevitable.”

Amy Gannon, an insect scientist for the state, said a total of three million acres are affected. She said the infection rivals a large outbreak seen in the early 1980s.

Like then, this outbreak will run its course and can’t be stopped, she said.

“It’s a cyclical insect. We will see it again.”

Harsh cold, especially in the fall and spring, can curtail the bug. She said there is some evidence an early cold snap last fall helped kill off many pine beetles.

She said cold weather in winter has less effect because the pine beetle prepares for it. She said sustained temperatures less than 40 degrees below zero would be needed in winter to kill the beetles.

“If we’re getting those temperatures, we probably have other concerns than bark beetles,” Gannon told the Mountain Pine Beetle forum.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided $20 million to help fight mountain pine beetle infestation in Montana. The money will be used to remove some beetle-killed trees, especially in areas frequented by people such as campgrounds. It will also be used to thin areas of thick stands.