Nightly News   |  February 28, 2010

Beetles threaten British Columbia’s evergreens

Armies of tiny mountain pine beetles are eating their way through the region’s vast forests of stately conifers, and the damage is monumental. NBC’s Tom Brokaw reports.

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>>> being here to cover these olympics has given us a chance to get to know this part of the world a little better. that includes getting a closer look at british columbia 's great outdoors and a big environmental problem in the making involving trees that some are now calling an endangered species . we get the story tonight from tom brokaw .

>> reporter: this is a portrait of an environmental calamity. the evergreens of british columbia , now so many are a rust brown. these towering trees are under attack from an army of tiny mountain pine beetles, each no bigger than a grain of rice. the damage is monumental.

>> the outbreak is now covering over 15 million hectares, or about 57,000 square miles .

>> reporter: climate change, scientists say, is warming canada 's winters. mild temperatures mean the pine beetles can thrive year-round.

>> once the populations build and there's a lot of them, they can basically attack living trees with 999 of their closest friends.

>> reporter: the beetles damage the trees' ability to nourish itself.

>> parents go in under a bark flake.

>> reporter: they lay their eggs beneath the outer layer of the bark. when the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow into the tree, cutting off the tree's nutrient supply and leaving a fungus, staining the wood blue.

>> the worst of the outbreak --

>> reporter: and all this adds to an even larger problem. the journal "nature" says these dead trees are now contributing to global warming because they're giving off carbon, not taking it in.

>> we estimate that the impact of the beetle is equivalent to roughly 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide .

>> we are in a desperate situation.

>> reporter: on the front lines are british columbia 's first nation communities. they rely on the forest for food, tourism, logging, and shelter. but they say canada 's government is not doing enough to stop the beetle infestation.

>> we are fighting to be able to get $135 million to create a fire break around 103 aboriginal communities.

>> reporter: to keep the dead trees from becoming a fire hazard , the local government is encouraging builders to use beet beetle-infested wood.

>> all this rippled roof area you see, it all comes from pine beetle -infested forests.

>> reporter: nearly six acres of beetle-infested wood were used to create this spectacular 700-foot-long roof in the ice oval. you can fit four 747s in here wing tip to wing tip . it is an imaginative use of the da damaged trees. but meanwhile, the beetles continue their relentless attack on one of canada 's glories, its vast forest of stately conifers. tom brokaw , nbc news, vancouver.