The sudden explosion of southern pine beetles this year in Honduras is being blamed on a warming climate by some scientists, but to the 350 soldiers of the First Artillery Battalion in Zambrano province, just north of the Honduran capital, the war they are fighting against the tree-munching bug is an effort in futility.
Even as the COP21 climate meeting in Paris is winding down, the world has been warned that Honduras, along with Myanmar and Haiti, is at the top of the list of countries hardest hit by threats from global warming. The 2016 Global Climate Risk Index
, produced by the advocacy group Germanwatch, says Honduras has been hit particularly hard, with floods, storms and landslides in the past 20 years.
This year, the strongest El Nino ever recorded has brought drought to the region causing a six-fold increase in the beetles. Southern pine beetles have already destroyed 400,000 hectares (one million acres) of pine forest, about one-quarter of the country's primary forest cover.
Because Honduras is such a bio-diverse country, experts are calling the beetle infestation an "ecological catastrophe." Military adviser Lucky Medina said, “This plague will leave us with just half the pine trees in Honduras — if we’re lucky."
Reinforcements have already been called in to help in the battle, including the country’s Forest Conservation Institute (ICF) and the military’s Forest Commando unit. Two-man teams, one to cut trees down and the other to assist, have spread out in different parts of the forest, taking down infected trees, along with some healthy trees to create buffer zones in hopes of saving the forests.
Prolonged droughts stress trees, making them more susceptible to bark beetles. The southern pine beetle is one of 6,000 species of beetles in the subfamily Scolytinae. Bark beetles readily attack trees already weakened by disease, drought, or smog, as has also been seen on the west coast of North America.
The southern pine beetle, Dendroctonus frontalis
, is a species of bark beetle and has a hard reddish-brown to black exoskeleton and measures about the size of a grain of rice, or about 3 mm (0.12 inches). From 1960 to 1990 in the south-eastern U.S., economic losses
from the beetle totaled over $900 million.
Last Month, California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency
in the state to address the infestation of tens of millions of trees caused by bark beetles. The United States Forest Service (USFS) estimates that over 22 million trees have already died in California.