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Beetles kill in Canada’s warming forests

Across British Columbia, 36 million acres of pine forest is dead or dying. The killer is a beetle the size of a rice kernel.

Ahead of the global climate talks in December 2009, nine photographers from the photo agency NOOR photographed climate stories from around the world. Their goal: to document some of the causes and consequences, from deforestation to changing sea levels, as well as the people whose lives and jobs are part of the carbon culture.

Two beneficiaries of a warmer climate, beetles and wildfires, are consuming northern forests in Canada and the U.S. This forest near Kelly Lake in the Cariboo District of British Columbia, Canada, shows the twin plagues: Beetle-infested trees surround healthy green trees, while the patch itself is flanked by trees killed by a recent wildfire. Nina Berman / Consequences by NOOR
Ponderosa pine trees, which can live to be hundreds of years old, are among the victims of beetles and wildfire. Moreover, as the land grows drier, trees grow weaker, and pests, abetted by milder winters, grow stronger. Nina Berman / Consequences by NOOR
The owners of a ranch near Kamloops, British Columbia, had to cut down this ponderosa killed by pine beetles.

By 2020, beetles will have done so much damage that British Columbia's forest is expected to release more carbon dioxide than it absorbs, according to the Canadian Forest Service. In two decades, that could mean nearly 1 billion tons more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — about the same as five years of emissions from Canada’s transportation sector.

While gaps in climate science exist, leading some to question the degree of mankind’s impact as well as whether anything should be done, most governments as well as the science academies of the U.S. and other industrial nations agree that mankind is a significant factor and that greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced. Nina Berman/noor / Consequences by NOOR
Pine beetles drill holes into trees, eating away and making nesting areas. Eventually that cuts off water and nutrients, essentially starving trees to death.

For more information on this project go to Consequences by NOOR Nina Berman / Consequences by NOOR
About the size of a grain of rice, pine beetles are small in stature but many in number — and thus able to devastate miles of forest.

Freezing weather can kill off larvae, but low temperatures are happening less often. Moreover, warmer summers enable some beetles to complete their reproductive cycle in one year instead of two, speeding up population growth.

In the United States, Forest Service officials believe most lodgepole pines — the predominant pine tree at higher elevations — will be killed by 2013, and it could take decades before those pines return. Nina Berman / Consequences by NOOR
This popular lookout over Kamloops Lake shows miles of trees dead from beetle kill and drought.

The Western U.S. holds similar views. In Colorado, a dozen towns are surrounded by dead forests and another dozen are on the outskirts. The state's affected region is also home to ski resorts such as Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge and Winter Park. Nina Berman / Consequences by NOOR
In British Columbia, beetles have laid waste to 35 million acres — an area the size of New York state — and are expected to kill 80 percent of its lodgepole pines.

"To the untrained eye, the (beetle) attack appears beautiful at first," says photographer Nina Berman. "Swaths of green trees turn red, like autumn leaves changing. But these pines are evergreens, and a color shift is a sign of inevitable mortality. From red, the leaves turn purple, brown and finally gray. At this point, they can no longer stand and wither to the ground, their pine cones dried out and scattered across the forest floor, their branches ready fuel for fires." Nina Berman / Consequences by NOOR
Dead pine stands like these in British Columbia are fuel for wildfires. In 2009, British Columbia saw more wildfires over more acres than in any year in its recorded history.

In the United States, an unprecedented years-long epidemic of mountain pine beetles has killed 6.5 million acres of forest from Colorado to Washington state. That's an area about the size of Massachusetts.

Share your thoughts about these slideshows and climate change. Nina Berman / Consequences by NOOR
A wildfire near Sorrento, British Columbia, becomes evening entertainment.

The U.N. panel of experts convened to assess climate impacts has stated with "very high confidence" that "disturbances such as wildfire and insect outbreaks are increasing and are likely to intensify in a warmer future with drier soils and longer growing seasons."

For more information on this project go to Consequences by NOOR Nina Berman / Consequences by NOOR