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on October 3, 2011
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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on October 8, 2011
What I liked most about this book is the last chapter and the broader message on tipping points, critical thresholds, and quick catastrophic, irreversible changes in ecosystems. The books is an easy, entertaining read full of interesting characters, although at times I found it a little full of cutesy metaphors and sexy sounds bites.

What I liked least about the book was some of the information was incorrect and could not be verified. The worst offender for me was the statement that bad science led to fire suppression for decades. It is unclear to me how science led to fire suppression policies in the first half of the 20th century - that was public sentiment at the time and management decisions and politics. We (people/the public) wanted to save forests and trees for the future. It wasn't science that created Smokey the Bear. At the time, we didn't realize the critical role that fire plays in many ecosystems - we've since learned about the role of fire and public perception is (slowly) changing about wildfire. We now know that wildfire is a natural and necessary part of many ecosystems. SCIENCE taught us that and is responsible for our changing perceptions. Science has changed our understanding and led to this change in perception; I don't see how science was responsible for fire suppression in the first half of the last century.

Some examples of other issues I had with the book were:
- The statements around woodpeckers increasing 85-fold in bark beetle-infested stands and 12 woodpeckers feeding on one tree. I could not confirm any numbers close to this. A fair bit of research has been done on natural enemies of MPB, including woodpeckers. Many woodpeckers in conifer forests are territorial and so their numbers don't increase to such extreme levels. In addition, biologically, it seems improbable that they could increase 85-fold during the course of an infestation because they do not have the reproductive capacity and life cycle to allow such an incredibly dramatic increase over the course of a few years (the typical length of a bark beetle outbreak in a specific stand).
- The statements about logging trucks hauling infested logs causing outbreaks along roads. There are strict guidelines for industry around hauling logs during the beetle flight, which are taken very seriously, and there are no documented cases of logging trucks starting infestations.

There are several more examples, which make me question how well the book was researched. Talking to researchers is great, but they're mainly qualified to talk about their own research and some are prone to exaggeration. Most of the people interviewed were scientists - the book lacked interviews with on-the-ground folks (the decision-makers), yet the author was very quick to criticize all management decisions that were made. What I really wonder, is if I read some of the author's other work - on topics I actually know little about - how will I know which information is accurate and which isn't? Will I be able to tell where his bias so obviously lays? Undoubtedly, his writing is persuasive and will play a role in shaping my view on the subject - that is why I feel so strongly about the inaccuracies and bias.

Interestingly, near the end of the book, the author talks about the seminal work of Buzz Holling, a Federal Government Scientist, on eastern spruce budworm and how his findings were in contrast with govt. policy and management at the time. I think the author missed an opportunity to discuss driving forces behind policy and management decisions - public perception, pressures and desires. And conflicting public pressures. He talked to a lot of experts that did research and I think a nice balance would have been to also talk to the people that were on the front line in terms of dealing with public and industry pressure and the situation in the forest (the provincial govt. that actually decides what to do on BC's land base). While the author is quick to use 20/20 hindsight to condemn govt. and industry reaction to bark beetle outbreaks and he talks about public opposition to harvesting (and I agree there's room for criticism of the provincial govt. response), he doesn't adequately investigate the incredible pressure that was on the provincial govt. to do something and he doesn't talk about what they did that was good. There is certainly opposing public opinion that feels more control and harvesting should have been done. Look at the current situation with mountain pine beetle in Montana right now - incredible public support (including from environmental groups) for active management through harvesting, thinning and insecticide (carbaryl application). I think the author could have represented opposing public opinions in the book to give more balance and show the complex reality that humans must address as we make decisions about how we manage our forests and the environment in general. Stating your opinion and making everyone else sound like an idiot for not agreeing with you or having your 20/20 hindsight only serves to polarize people on complex issues and decisions that we have to make about our environment.
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on May 5, 2012
Well worth the effort to read. Yes it does some serious finger pointing and perhaps
some of the drawn conclusions may be too close to the author's personal view.
Never the less 'Sources and further Reading' stand as an excellent source for further
investigation. The 3 star ratings have been registered using an aliases which may
have been necessary if they are or were hard working government people working in forestry.
The cynicism for government performance comes honestly if you follow the Cohen
Commission hearings on salmon farms on British Columbia's West coast.
Read the book.
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on November 21, 2012
A very interesting read, with well-presented and non-stuffy info about the different types of beetles, their habits and the trees they love to inhabit, and observations on why they (might) swarm. Stunning information re very old trees and the beetles that help them survive. Recommended reading for anyone interested in the outdoors.
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Nikiforuk covers North America's recent rise of bark beetle irruptions as a good disaster journalist. Then he keeps digging -- into the background of forest history, insect evolution, resource management strategy, climate change, and our counterproductive wars on whatever creatures we can't respect. It's a huge, dramatic story of animal creativity and human arrogance. It also highlights one of the greatest examples of climate-change-driven transformation of the world I've heard of so far.
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on March 13, 2014
I heard a mention, not review, on CBC radio and thought that my daughter in Prince George, BC would be interested as she is in forestry. I will send the book to her - once I have finished reading it !
Well written although one must remember it is occasionally prejudiced. What isn't.
She will be given the book.
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on March 18, 2012
WOW, I was absolutely blown away with this book, so impeccably researched, so beautifully written; I can see why this author has won the Rachel Carson award! I am going to look up more of his titles. I can't believe the scientific facts in this book, and the human interest in the characters the author has dredged up while researching these destructive little creatures. The devastation of our forests affects everyone from the casual week-end hiker, the forestry worker and everyone who has ever admired the simple beauty of a tree.
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on October 20, 2014
Shipped fast. Brand new.
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