I sat in the Nissan Ultima as my friends and I whizzed past the dying hills of Lac Le Jeune Provincial Park. Covered in sickly lodgepole pines, Lac Le Jeune was suffering and has been for the past ten to fifteen years. We had only been exploring British Columbia for less than a week and already we could see the effects of what we thought was an invasive species. I continued to look out the car window at the decrepit scenery. The trees looked as if they were crying out for protection from being systematically destroyed by whatever insect had chosen to invade. Never have I felt so much pain and sorrow exude from a natural landscape.
We had spent the previous night in the Provincial Park enjoying the sunset by the lakeside under the stars. On our drive out, the magnitude of the park’s degradation continued to grow. Kilometer after kilometer, I was miffed at the state of which these forests were in. It was not until I made it home several weeks later to figure out that Lac Le Jeune was afflicted not by an invasive species but by a local one, the Western Pine Beetle.
Unlike most stories about environmental degradation, the plight of Lac Le Jeune Provincial Park is caused by a beetle that has always been in the area. It’s a native. The reason for its increased rise and destruction of its habitat? Warmer winters. For the past ten or so years, winters have been progressively warmer allowing more beetles than usual to survive through to the next season. In a natural ecosystem, trees defend themselves with a toxic resin, but as beetle populations increase they overwhelm the trees defense systems and kill the tree. Again, in a natural ecosystem, only a few number of trees would be killed off, but as winters are becoming warmer, more beetles mean more trees die .
Stated earlier, the Mountain Pine Beetle is local to the Rockies. Its range extends upward into Northwestern Canada all the way down through the US Rockies and into Mexico. In short, it has a long and wide range. In Canada alone, the beetle has spread to over 19 million hectares of land . To put that into perspective, imagine 19 million rugby fields set next to each other. That is the same amount of land that the Mountain Pine Beetle occupies in Canada alone.
Where did we go wrong? How does something this widespread go so widely unnoticed? What will happen to the communities affected by this? Do we even care enough to save them?
All too often we see nature as its own separate force. Not a force to work with, but rather a force to protect ourselves from and to fight against. Through our own ineptitude, we have chosen to overlook paths towards a symbiotic relationship with nature. We have been unable, no, unwilling to curb our desires and wants for not only the betterment of each individual but also for the betterment of our earth.
As all the trees fall, will we watch or will we act?
Photos by author
Jeromy Slaby is the founder and project manager of Sonderers Magazine. He is also a freelance writer and photographer who specializes in travel and politics. He is currently working on receiving a BA in adventure education from Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. See more of his work here.