2008-09-02

Global warming's effects burned onto West

As pilot Bruce Gordon lifts up from the local airport, the distant perspective of the Teton Range raises the spirits, but the unfolding sight of dying forests sears the soul.

High-elevation white bark pines, which have endured droughts and lightning and insect attacks in life spans as long as 1,000 years, are being killed by a tiny beetle whose numbers were once limited by a bitter winter climate.

"What you are seeing is a natural process on steroids: All these trees will be toast unless the pace of global warming is drastically slowed," said Dr. Diana Tombeck, a University of Colorado-Denver professor. She studies white bark pine and calls it "a foundation species."