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Our Dying Forests: Beetles Gnaw Through Utah, West

from the Salt Lake Tribune

Bozeman Pass, Mont. -- A gray-whiskered former fly-fishing guide waded through a horse pasture whacking weeds for his neighbor, the rumbling machine in his hands slicing thistles and sparing a robust tangle of grass and wildflowers, while on mountain ridges all around him, the trees silently died. Beetles.

Here, along the pine-scented exurban glory of Trail Creek, Lester DuChane and his sparse neighbors are the latest Westerners to watch their green valley turn red and fade to gray as swarms of rice-grain-size beetles eat the Rocky Mountain forest. He cannot figure out why the government never launched an aggressive counterattack against an epidemic, which has swept through neighboring ranges almost since he settled here in 1994.

"They say they're working on it," DuChane sneered, remembering his pleas with Gallatin National Forest rangers. "It's the government. It ain't doing anything." His is a complaint echoed by Western politicians, who think government land managers heaped disaster on the region by letting forests grow so thick that the trees cannot get enough water and sunlight to defend themselves from the pests.

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