Synopses & Reviews
Beginning in the late 1980s, a series of improbable bark beetle outbreaks unsettled iconic forests and communities across western North America. An insect the size of a rice kernel eventually killed more than 30 billion pine and spruce trees from Alaska to New Mexico. Often appearing in masses larger than schools of killer whales, the beetles engineered one of the world's greatest forest die-offs since the deforestation of Europe by peasants between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries.
The beetle didn't act alone. Misguided science, out-of-control logging, bad public policy, and a hundred years of fire suppression created a volatile geography that released the world's oldest forest manager from all natural constraints. Like most human empires, the beetles exploded wildly and then crashed, leaving in their wake grieving landowners, humbled scientists, hungry animals, and altered watersheds. Although climate change triggered this complex event, human arrogance assuredly set the table. With little warning, an ancient insect pointedly exposed the frailty of seemingly stable manmade landscapes. And despite the billions of public dollars spent on control efforts, the beetles burn away like a fire that can't be put out.
Drawing on first-hand accounts from entomologists, botanists, foresters, and rural residents, award-winning journalist Andrew Nikiforuk investigates this unprecedented beetle plague, its startling implications, and the lessons it holds.
"With equal attention to the destructive actions of insects and humans alike, Canadian journalist Nikiforuk (Tar Sands) describes the decimation of expanses of conifers by bark beetles on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. Quoting entomologist Stephen L. Wood, who wrote the bible on bark beetles, Nikiforuk explains that in a healthy forest, the beetles act as managers, killing off stagnant trees, recycling them as forest nutrients, and making way for younger, more vigorous trees. But because the beetles' function 'competes with human interests' the beetles have been transformed into a dangerously destructive element. Ineffective and forest- and community-destroying policies to fight the beetles, such as poisoning and clear-cutting, and forestry tactics like monoculture, which lower the forests' resilience, combined with global warming which causes an increase in beetle reproductive cycles and weakens forests with droughts seem to have turned what was once an essential part of the forest life cycle into an ecological disaster. Nikiforuk leavens this tragic, instructive history with curious facts about the complex, intelligent insect and intriguing experiments using sounds to 'defeat scolytids and temper their forest-eating behavior.' Nikiforuk's florid language, affection for the beetles, and scorn for the humans in his story are sometimes extravagant, but lighten the tone of what in other hands could be an overwhelmingly depressing topic. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Nikiforuk leavens this tragic, instructive history with curious facts about the complex, intelligent insect"and#8212;Publishers Weekly
"Sometimes called the "Katrina of the West," these infestations received very little publicity but caused the loss of millions of dollars worth of lumber ...Well written and informative... Highly Recommended"and#8212; Choice Reviews
and#8220;A terrific book on a terrifying subject... a chilling, fascinating, and important contribution to our understanding of a rapidly changing world.and#8221;and#8212; John Vaillant, author of The Tiger and The Golden Spruce
"A compelling look at what may be the single biggest impact of climate change, and a harbinger of life to come on a warming planet." and#8212;Jim Robbins, Science Journalist, The New York Times
"Empire of the Beetle is a work of great skill and passion, and vital to anyone courageous enough to be interested in the ecology of the future."and#8212;Rick Bass, author of Winter: Notes From Montana
and#8220;[T]he Iliad of the bark beetles. It really demonstrates how intertwined nature is... as Andrew shows so well, we are part of nature.and#8221;
and#8212;John Perlin, leading U.S. solar energy expert and author of A Forest Journey
About the Author
is an award-winning journalist who has written about education, economics, and the environment for the last two decades. His books include Pandemonium, Saboteurs: Wiebo Ludwig's War Against Oil
, which won the Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction, and The Fourth Horseman: A Short History of Plagues, Scourges and Emerging Viruses
. His bestselling book Tar Sands
won the Rachel Carson Environment Book Award.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: The Alaska Storm
Chapter Two: The Beetle, the Bus, and the Carbon Castle
Chapter Three: The Lodgepole Tsunami
Chapter Four: The War against the Insect Enemy
Chapter Five: In the Wake of the Beetle
Chapter Six: The Ghost Forest
Chapter Seven: The Song of the Beetle
Chapter Eight: The Sheath-Winged Cosmos
Chapter Nine: The Two Dianas
Chapter Ten: The Parable of the Worm
Sources and Further Information