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Published:July 24th, 2011 10:50 EST
Fungus, the Bark Beetle and the Whitebark Pine Tree

Fungus, the Bark Beetle and the Whitebark Pine Tree

By Donna Cavanagh

It seems as if everything in nature gets fungus.  Humans are always fighting fungal infections from their toes to their scalps, and the pharmaceutical companies have been right on the ball giving us remedies that kill the offending invaders wherever they lie. 

I always wondered what it would be like to be a fungus researcher.  I am not sure if it`s a profession that people usually own up to. Let`s face it: what sounds better?  " I am a scientist researching alternative fuels to save our planet" or "I am a scientist researching fungus"?  Fungus, I would think, is not so glamorous.

Okay, I know that sounds a bit snotty because fungus can be problematic in so many ways, so we should be grateful to those who want to study it; I just don`t want to invite them over for dinner without proof that they washed their hands really good before leaving the lab.

I have fallen so far off the track; In fact, I never even climbed onto the right track to begin with, but I do have a fungus point here.  Do you know that out in the northern Rockies and Western Canada an extra- strength fungus and a bug called the bark beetle are destroying the Whitebark Pine Trees, and in fact, two-thirds of these trees have disappeared from Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. This is not a new observation; scientists have been monitoring the situation for more than 30 years, but little can be done.  No one takes time to find cures for tree fungus. It`s hard enough to find a cure for the human funguses, no-fungi-- right?

So, what should the Whitebark Pine do? Well, the Fish and Wildlife Service want the trees to migrate north.  Hm. This is where you can tell I am a city girl: How do you get trees to uproot and move?  Do you line them all up and lead them out of their home forest like Moses led the Israelites out of the desert?  Maybe you wave stand in front of them and wave them forward like the guy on the tarmac that leads airplanes into the gates? Do you just throw some suitcases on the forest floor and tell them they have overstayed their welcome?

Let`s give the trees the benefit of the doubt and say they understand the need to move north to escape the fungus and bark beetle. Let`s say they fold up their branches and re-locate. The challenge to survive is still not over. The earth`s climate is getting warmer. I know there is a bunch of you that don`t buy the whole global warming thing, and you think it is a scam rigged by liberals to sabotage the altruistic efforts of the selfless oil companies. But I believe it is happening, and so do most people with brains. Anyway, the point is this:  even if the trees move, they still might not survive because they might not survive the higher temperatures.  

So, how can the Whitebark Pine do for protection?  Well, they could develop a tree suit of armor to ward off insects and temperature changes; they could bribe an athlete`s foot researcher and a RAID chemist to forget about studying human fungus and roaches and take up their plight, or they can go out on a limb and join forces with all the other trees in the forest and knock off the people who don`t believe global warming is an issue. Then, maybe with a more sympathetic human population, the forests might stand a chance of survival.