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3.0 out of 5 stars Strongly biased - make sure to read with a critical eye, Oct. 3 2011
This review is from: Empire of the Beetle: How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug Are Killing North America's Great Forests (Paperback)
I am deeply divided in my reaction to this book. As an entomologist, I am very happy to see a book written for the layperson about insects, particularly bark beetles. They are fascinating animals, and the author does a good job of injecting some excitement into what many would think is a boring topic. He tells several interesting stories of research into the largely unknown ecosystems that lie under the bark of coniferous trees (though he has an annoying habit of using the four letter word for feces, when feces is a perfectly acceptable term).

What makes me give the book such a low rating is the author's discussions about the political aspects of the bark beetle outbreaks, particularly the one in B.C. Having been directly involved in the mountain pine beetle outbreak in B.C. myself, there are numerous occasions in the book where the author is clearly being hyperbolic, and several times where he is incorrect in his accusations. While he correctly dispels some myths as false (the entire B.C. infestation started in Tweedsmuir Park), he perpetuates others as true (B.C. was 'blind' without the FIDS surveys, beetles were spread by loaded logging trucks) because they further his agenda. This is unfortunate, as his primary points about the current bark beetle epidemics being driven primarily by anthropogenic climate change and fire suppression are well documented, and I fully agree with these points.

Hindsight is 20:20, so it is always easy to criticize those involved in forest management years ago, before the implications of what they were doing was fully known. Also, the author himself states that in the recent outbreaks, the beetles have done things we have not seen them do in past epidemics (i.e. move into higher latitudes, attack younger trees, etc.). How could these changes have been predicted?

The author does not seem willing to give any government any credit for doing anything right. Alaska did not log the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, and B.C. did not harvest in Tweedsmuir Park, despite enormous pressure to do so. These decisions support the author's premise of letting nature take its course and not trying to 'fight' the beetles, but he glosses over these decisions to attack other government actions. I have heard the author several times on the radio, and went to see him speak in person as well. I was disappointed that he didn't seem willing to listen to anyone that might have a different perspective on things.

When I saw that The Suzuki Foundation was a sponsor of this book, I was hoping that it would not be a strongly biased piece. After having read the book, I have to say I was disappointed to find that it was. I was looking forward to a more balanced book that looked at all sides of the issues involved, and this book is too one-sided for me to fully enjoy it.
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Location: B.C., Canada

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