When a bark beetle outbreak started killing off decades-old pine trees in a research forest in western Montana, Forest Service researcher Sharon Hood made the best of the situation. She and other researchers started studying which trees were dying, hoping that information would help land managers.
In the past, forest managers tended to plant fast-growing trees, but Hood and her team, led by the University of Montana, found slow-growing trees are the ones most likely to survive a beetle outbreak.
“We want our forests to be as well protected as possible from bark beetles,” Hood said. “Trees provide these huge ecosystem services: carbon storage, water quality, timber products.”
Bark beetle outbreaks and wildfires are the two biggest killers of forests, and land managers in the West have been struggling to deal with the outbreaks, which are getting more severe with climate change. But now they can prepare for future outbreaks by changing up what kind of pine trees they plant.