Reviewed: Empire of the Beetle

The results of the latest beetle surge are writ plain across the North American landscape, as award-winning Calgary journalist Nikiforuk details.

 
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Empire of the Beetle: How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug Are Killing North America’s Great Forests
(Greystone Books/David Suzuki Foundation)
Andrew Nikiforuk

The first “no-holds-barred campaign” against bark beetles came in 18th-century Germany, which struggled with a series of beetle epidemics and the resulting scarcity of usable wood. Indeed, the basic principles of beetle control date to 1787, when a member of the region’s pioneering forestry industry published the first comprehensive study—500 pages long—of the problems of arresting a force seemingly beyond human control. In short, we’re still battling a centuries-old foe. And losing.

The results of the latest beetle surge are writ plain across the North American landscape, as award-winning Calgary journalist Nikiforuk details. His survey of the front lines in the current struggle ranges from unfathomably large 250,000-acre clear-cuts in B.C. to the dwindling ranks of New Mexico’s iconic piñon trees. If his interest seems more in the beetles as natural phenomenon than economic scourge, his history of beetle infestations nevertheless offers useful insight into the power of an insect to “unsettle corporate logging communities more assuredly than the boll weevil undid the cotton economy.”

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