A Globe & Mail Top 100 Selection
Beginning in the late 1980s, a series of pine beetle (also known as the bark beetle) outbreaks unsettled iconic forests and communities across western North America. An insect the size of a rice kernel eventually killed more than 30 billion pine and spruce trees from Alaska to New Mexico.
The pine beetle didn't act alone. Misguided science, out-of-control logging, bad public policy, and a hundred years of fire suppression released the world's oldest forest manager from all natural constraints. The beetles exploded wildly in North America and then crashed, leaving in their wake grieving landowners, humbled scientists, hungry animals, and altered watersheds. Although climate change triggered this complex event, human arrogance assuredly played a role. And despite the billions of public dollars spent on control efforts, the beetles burn away like a fire that can't be put out.
Author Andrew Nikiforuk draws on first-hand accounts from entomologists, botanists, foresters, and rural residents to investigate this unprecedented pine beetle plague, its startling implications, and the lessons it holds. Written in an accessible way, Empire of the Beetle is the only book on the pine beetle epidemic that is devastating the North American West.
Published in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation.
It's only fitting that a renowned gadfly like Andrew Nikiforuk, the award-winning Calgary-based journalist and author with an interest in education, economics and the environment, should turn his inquisitive nature to the world of bugs. In his latest, relatively short yet scholarly investigation, Nikiforuk takes readers into the fascinating world of beetles and how . . . the mountain pine beetle . . . is decimating pine forests throughout North America . . . Each of the book's 10 chapters stands on its own, yet is skilfully connected to the book's main message—that the relationship between beetles and trees is mutually beneficial, and when we mess with nature, we do so at our own peril. —Joseph Hnatiuk, Winnipeg Free Press
. . . packed with statistics, vivid descriptions of bark beetle life cycles, and portraits of scientists and forest managers struggling to cope with beetle colonies . . . —LA Times
A terrific book on a terrifying subject. Andrew Nikiforuk is the first person to put this ominous New World catastrophe into such vivid context. Empire of the Beetle is a chilling, fascinating, and important contribution to our understanding of a rapidly changing world. —John Valliant
Noted Canadian journalist Nikiforuk (Tar Sands, 2008) examines the causes and results of a series of bark beetle outbreaks starting in the late 1980s, which destroyed more than 30 billion pine and spruce trees . . . Well written and informative. Summing Up: Highly recommended. —
Drawing on first hand accounts from entomologists, botanists, foresters and rural residents in Canada and the U.S., Nikiforuk [digs] into the history of bark beetles. —Burns Lake Lakes District News
It is impossible to even begin enumerating the wealth of astounding facts peppering this book, so I will simply note that Nikiforuk artfully breaks up his science with a social history of mankind's age —old fascination with beetles, from Aesop to Darwin . . . fascinating and thought-provoking . . . —National Post
Nikiforuk tallies the human and ecological costs of bark beetles' destruction of wide swathes of trees, costs that are exacerbated by climate change. His plainspoken writing style is especially poignant as he gives voice to the devastating human experience of lost forests. Recommended. —Library Journal
The Canadian experience, as chronicled by Andrew Nikiforuk, makes a strong case that the best defense against massive insect outbreaks and large forest fires is to have a diverse landscape with a heterogeneous variety of stand ages and tree composition. —Homer Tribune
Andrew Nikiforuk's Empire of the Beetle is not just a primer on the life cycle, usefulness and recent rampages of the tribe of bark beetles that have killed more than 30 billion pine and spruce trees in Canada and the American West . . . It is not simply another tome that blames all hell on climate change . . . It is at its best a principled reflection on what ecologist Crawford Holling has called 'the pathology of resource management.' The never-before-seen complete virulence of the bark beetles in the conifer forests—with a few aspen forests thrown in for good measure—is not just the result of some wrong turn in forest policy. It is a result of the mistaken notion that any forest policy is better than learning from nature and following nature's ways. —William Bryant Logan, Globe & Mail
With equal attention to the destructive actions of insects and humans alike, Canadian journalist Nikiforuk describes the decimation of expanses of conifers by bark beetles . . . Nikiforuk's florid language, affection for the beetles, and scorn for the humans in his story are sometimes extravagant, but lighten the tone of what in other hands could be an overwhelmingly depressing topic. —
In this remarkable book . . . Nikiforuk applies his usual skill and passion to a fascinating subject. —Finding Solutions
Empire of the Beetle: How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug Are Killing North America's Great Forests . . . is an eye-opener, not just about how much damage bark beetles are doing but on how much humans have laid the table for the bugs' banquet. The whole episode ought to instruct us on how to do things better, and there are lessons which Nikiforuk includes, if those who are in position to manage decisions about the forests are listening. —The Commercial Dispatch
Empire of the Beetle highlights that bark beetles are not a plague but a normal part of the forest ecosystem . . . if we want to turn the tide, if we want to avoid seeing Canada become an Empire of the Beetle, we had better start learning from the past. —Steve Anderson, Vue Weekly
Nikiforuk draws on interviews with scientists, foresters and rural residents to paint a nuanced picture of beetle outbreaks and their long-term implications. —Sid Perkins, Science News
. . . the book is more than just an enjoyable romp through matters coleopterological; it makes many important points of considerable importance. —Laurence Packer, Literary Review of Canada
The ultimate message in Empire of the Beetle is that of human folly. Nikiforuk shows that many of the scientists who were originally contracted to study the bark beetle with the aim of controlling it eventually came around to seeing the beetle as a natural agent that manages forests. As Nikiforuk concludes: if you remove one agent of renewal in a forest (such as fire), another will take its place. And so, following centuries of forest management, the stage has been set for Empire of the Beetle. —Jacqueline WIndh, Vancouver Sun
Empire of the Beetle is a remarkable and powerful book. Nikiforukís thorough research and engaging style has pieced together a story that is both bizarre and frightening. It is heartbreaking to see the devastation bark beetles have unleashed on North America, but it is hard to pin this on the beetles. —Rob Alexander, Rocky Mountain Outlook
. . . the world's only page-turner about beetles . . . .[Nikiforuk] has a clear, muscular style and a masterful command of simile, metaphor and analogy to illustrate otherwise dull or obscure scientific data. His research is awe-inspiring, his conclusions irrefutable, and the implications dismal. —Richard Sherbaniuk, Edmonton Journal