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caption: Mountain pine beetles will be challenged by the current cold weather. 
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Mountain pine beetles will be challenged by the current cold weather.
Credit: Flickr Photo/Government of Alberta (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

When Washington freezes, so do destructive bugs

You can thank this cold weather for making Washington's forests healthier in the new year. Forests, and backyard gardens, rely on bouts of cold weather to kill off destructive and invasive pests.

State climatologist Nick Bond has one particular bug in mind: the bark beetle. They take advantage of mild conditions, like Washington experienced the past two winters in a row. Bark beetles are considered agricultural pests, and are responsible for killing millions of trees in the western U.S.

Bond: "Lack of cold weather has helped promote infestations of bark beetles that do real damage to forests. And so, these kind of cold air outbreaks can knock back those populations and keep our ecosystem healthier."

Bond says this week's weather could also help gardeners. Slug eggs may not live through the cold snap.

It has already been a good winter for snowpack, with snow levels above normal in Washington’s mountains. The snow will help prevent summertime drought, by supplying water to watersheds and farmers as it melts.

Bond says that with a changing climate, we may see warmer winters in the future.

Correction, 11 a.m., 01/06/2017: Story updated to reflect that bark beetles are native to Washington and considered agricultural pests.