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Fight against bark beetles is "only" about the human control

...but the forests will do fine, anyway...

Yesterday was one of the last luxurious sunny summer-like days of 2019, a good time to check The Bohemian Forest (Šumava, 200+ pix). We have never been to so many places of Šumava in the summer. So I had to see the summits of Špičák and Pancíř, the Devil's Lake and the Black Lake, Hofmanky, Belveder (a slope with cross-country skiers), and more – all the names and places that are familiar to everyone who liked to ski or had to ski ;-) in the Western Bohemian part of Šumava (as opposed to the Southern Bohemian part).



In Czechia, we recently witnessed years in which the bark beetle exploded in numbers (2018 was a recent record year for the parasite but I think that similar upticks have been observed for a decade or so) and it has become an interesting political issue.

Quite generally, the greens (who tend to be globalists) want us to leave the bark beetle to do what it wants – while the nationalist types (starting with President Zeman who somewhat successfully promoted himself to the anti-bark-beetle warrior-in-chief LOL) want to fight the infestation. It basically means to cut the trees that are infested, as if the bark beetles were plague that you should stop (and you could stop) completely and then you're supposed to hope that the bark beetle won't spread at all.



Well, I do think it's instinctively right to fight the bark beetle. In Šumava, it primarily attacks the spruces. Some century ago or so, Šumava was turned into a nearly monocultural forest with spruces everywhere – and spruces are by far the most widespread species of trees in Czechia (but the moderately hilly Czechia's mainland has a lot of beautiful broadleaf trees almost everywhere). The spruces' wood is good enough and they grow very quickly – which is why they were preferred for the man-made management. Such monoculturalism has consequences, of course: a beetle that likes to devour it may hypothetically eat a lot or everything. And do so rather quickly – although, as I will argue, some people greatly overstate the speed.



So the bark beetle infestation seems like a dangerous, exponentially growing process. That's why it's natural for us to try to stop it. We just don't want to get such things out of control. And I think that it's the only correct justification of the intense fight against the infestation. We just want to preserve some character of the forest that resembles what we're used to – this is good for our, human psychology and for our, human planning.

The fight against the bark beetle is really about humans' claiming the control over the main macroscopic quantities describing the character of our ecosystems.

But if we don't fight, things will survive. Some trees and even hectares of trees may be devoured. But that's not the end of the world and it has happened in the past. I recently read some essay about a similar bark beetle infestation in Šumava around the 1860s – the discussions looked almost identical to the present one but the "Armageddon" stopped within a decade those 150 years ago. The unmatched beauty of Šumava would become a thing of the past, people were saying during the peak hysteria – and similar alarmist headlines were everywhere, among rather regular people as well as biologists.

Well, Šumava is just immensely beautiful. It's almost certainly more beautiful and healthier than it was 150 years ago. The extra CO2 in the air surely helps. And yes, Šumava is overwhelmingly "dark green" if you look at it from the bird's perspective.



Some idea about the role of time. How the forest recovers in 12 years, 2006-2018, a timelapse video taken near the Plešné Lake, Southern Bohemian part of Šumava.

If we left the bark beetle to do what it wants, the character of many places would change. Some trees would be destroyed – including trees that carry signs for the tourists, colorful strips painted on the trees and labeling the routes, a system that Czechs are rightfully proud about, too. But something else would grow there instead. Trees are impressive but they're not the only worthy organisms on Earth. And they largely make it impossible for most other plants to grow in the area. So some meadows and bushes are often beautiful, diverse, and eye-catching, too. The pictures show some examples. From some viewpoint, trees are nasty predators that steal the resources from everyone else!

Some of the dead trees have had very positive consequences for other portions of the ecosystems. In particular, phosphorus was released from these dead trees that has made it to the Black Lake and the pH of that lake – temporarily a dead lake due to the acid rains – has returned to the pre-industrial values. Isn't it great? Some trees may be devoured by a beetle but lots of other plants and species may suddenly return to the lakes etc. So things simply aren't black-and-white.

So I think we should only fight the bark beetle roughly to the extent that is needed for us to feel that the evolution of the ecosystems will be predictable and we will be able to fix e.g. the tourist signs on the missing trees in some way. But otherwise there are areas with too many spruces that have been waiting for a bark beetle explosion. To some extent, such an explosion is almost unavoidable (or the expenses needed to be spent to preserve such monocultural areas may surpass the benefits of having this many spruces) because the dense spruce forests are tempting. The excessively monocultural management of these forests that was the golden standard throughout the 20th century (with spruces only) was a mistake of a sort – the planning did incorrectly ignore the bark beetle and perhaps some other implications – and it's normal to let Nature to gradually fix the mistake. So at some timescale, in the future, many of the spruces over there may be devoured and largely replaced by some other tree species or other plants that won't be similarly vulnerable. It's normal. I think that if there's Šumava in 2300 AD, and I hope there will be one, it will be more multicultural when it comes to the tree species and one particular species of bark beetles will know that it's hard to consume the forest in the whole mountains.



I feel that my fellow anti-bark-beetle "nationalists" are sometimes falling into a similar kind of alarmism that defines the global warming alarmists (especially their newest avant garde, the Gretinists) and other whackos. Many people want to feel important and do and promote policies that save the world. But the bad news for them – both left-wing and right-wing alarmists who are saving the world – is that they are not really needed and the world isn't ending. The Earth will do fine without them – and even Šumava will do fine.

Some of the pictures show small red segments of the forests. I initially thought that it was a regular color of the coming autumn but it's probably wrong – they could have been trees heavily attacked by the bark beetles right now. The red color is beautiful, anyway. The trees suffer but you know... trees have the IQ of a pumpkin, almost literally, and while they suffer, the bark beetles are thriving. And who are you to say that the trees are ethical saints while the bark beetles are evil villains? This is how nature works. Bark beetles have evolved to exploit some imbalances that sometimes emerged in the free markets known as the ecosystems. At some level, bark beetles are analogous to Tesla short sellers and play a beneficial role, too.

Also, we sometimes read about the terrible behavior by which the Czech tourists are destroying Šumava. I haven't really seen anything of the sort, despite the fact that there are lots of scoobikes and mountain bikes and other things over there. Some people are overly sensitive and pretend that the excessive sensitivity is extremely important for the survival of the Earth or at least of Šumava – but it's not. Why don't they just follow your humble correspondent, silently collect 100 pieces of trash a day, throw it to trash bins, and shut their mouth when it comes to the cataclysmic speech? At the end, I think it's obvious that the main activity by which Šumava may be actually diminished is the cutting of the trees followed by the construction of buildings. Once you build concrete blocks or skyscrapers (or solar panels and wind turbines!) all over the place, the ecosystems won't recover easily. Also, if cars start to kill all the wildlife or people will be allowed to hunt too much, the animals may be driven to extinction.

But if you just allow people to walk in the forests and sometimes ride a scoobike or a mountain bike, Nature will do just fine. We should avoid the unsubstantiated hysteria and overreactions – and especially the people who otherwise fight against alarmism shouldn't become alarmists in topics such as the bark beetle themselves. Similar national parks are wonderful – but their wonderful character depends on some people's actually experiencing them – and the latter should therefore never be banned.

And that's the memo.


P.S.: I find it rather interesting how heavily "regional" the discussion about the bark beetle has remained. Many nations and communities – Czechia, Poland, Arizona, Colorado, British Columbia etc. (look for the bark beetle at Google News) – are dealing with and discussing this very issue. But it sounds like they were talking about completely different problems. Outside this website, there is no "global discussion" about this ecological issue. Well, in some regions, it seems that the public isn't interested in the topic at all. In Czechia, the broader public generally is interested in the bark beetle. You surely find one million or millions of people who have expressed their views on the bark beetle. Maybe in Arizona, Colorado, and the British Columbia, only a few forest management experts really care?

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