Non-Native Pests Killing Forests, Releasing Carbon

Originally published on August 16, 2019 1:31 pm

Invasive insects and diseases are killing tree species in forests across the U.S., and in turn, weakening one of the planet's natural ways to fight climate change. That's according to a new report published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The report, a collaboartion between Purdue University, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, found that invasive pests are killing millions of trees every year.

Randall Morin is with the U.S. Forest Service and a co-author of the study. He says these invaders are turning up primarily in the Eastern U.S., but that doesn't mean our region is safe.

"The West is certainly vulnerable," he says. "Some of these pests do have host species throughout the forests of the West and they just have not been transported, or been able to establish themselves in those areas yet."

Morin says this problem goes beyond saving trees.

"Trees and forests and the amount of carbon that they do take up from the atmosphere every year is one of the biggest things that we can do to try to combat climate change," he says.

Trees store large quantities of carbon. Morin says as more trees die from these invasive pests, more carbon is released into the atmosphere, which exacerbates the impacts of climate change.

Morin says the amount of carbon that's being released from the resultant dead trees equals about the same amount of carbon given off by 4.4 million cars in one year.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration of Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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