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.
Andrew Nikiforuk 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.
"Nikiforuk leavens this tragic, instructive history with curious facts about the complex, intelligent insect"—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"— Choice Reviews
“A terrific book on a terrifying subject... a chilling, fascinating, and important contribution to our understanding of a rapidly changing world.”— 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." —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."—Rick Bass, author of Winter: Notes From Montana
“[T]he Iliad of the bark beetles. It really demonstrates how intertwined nature is... as Andrew shows so well, we are part of nature.”
—John Perlin, leading U.S. solar energy expert and author of A Forest Journey