About Beetle Kill:
Beetle kill is a well known phenomenon throughout the Western US. Colorado alone has seen millions of trees die because of various beetle infestations- often fueling issues of fire, drought, flooding, and extinction. However, the issue is often seen as a simple villain/victim story where the beetle is the enemy - or - equally misleading, reduced to a “natural” part of forest ecology.
This work attempts to look beyond that good/bad binary and ask the question:
what does this beetle have to teach us?
The artwork focuses on the impacts of spruce beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis) on Engelman Spruce (Picea engelmannii) on Monarch pass, where 90 % of tall spruce trees have been killed.
Spruce beetle infests high-elevation Engelmann spruce throughout much of Colorado. Since 2000, this small, native bark beetle has affected at least 1.89 million cumulative acres of forest. As Colorado ecosystems become warmer and drier because of climate change, trees become stressed making them susceptible to attack by bark beetles. At the same time, bark beetles are thriving, as cold-induced mortality becomes rare. On Monarch Pass, because of tree mortality, wildfire is now a serious concern because of its potential devastating effects on communities and on water quality in the Arkansas River catchment.
See more here:
1) 2021 Forest Health Highlights: Colorado
2) Aerial Survey: Spruce Beetle Remains Most Deadly Forest Pest
Since 2020, the local forest service has done extensive mitigation along the Monarch Pass route in order to reduce the risk of large scale fires and their concomitant threats on water quality and soil erosion.
While the problem seems to be under control for now, there are many lingering questions in the community and from forest service members themselves. On paper, it seems that spruce beetle mortality is declining, but that is only because there aren’t any adult trees left in the area to kill. Spruce beetle is just one of the many current threats to forests across the Western US, many feeding off of the same underlying conditions. And while efforts to manage the problem have been largely successful in the area, there is a sense that this is a bandaid, not a cure.
The artwork attempts to create space for both the complex science behind this situation and the questions that science might not be able to ask.
If you’re wondering what you can do.
Reach out to your local forest service office to learn about the local conditions and impacts. Educate yourself about the many factors that create conditions for beetle kill.
A few recommended books are:
Trees in Trouble by Daniel Mathews
Tending the Wild by Kat Anderson
Native Science by Gregory Cajete
The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, Privilege and Environmental Protection by Dorceta Taylor