In certain parts of western North America, vast areas of pine forests have been systematically devastated by the mountain pine beetle. This tiny insect, measuring only a few millimetres in length, by multiplying into multitudinous flying hordes, has been able to destroy vast numbers of pine and other kinds of trees, including entire forests that cover large areas. If we wish to understand the reason for the devastation caused by this tiny insect, we need to consider the Law of Balance and humanity’s recent violation of this law in these areas.
In the natural course of events, meaning before humans began disrupting these events by their highly disruptive practices, what was the fate of a tree that fell and died in a forest? Without exception, the answer is that it was gradually eaten by the many tiny creatures that live within or near the soil. Even on hillsides or mountainsides, the presence of the many other mature trees prevents a fallen tree from rolling downhill, so that it remains near the place where it spent its entire life, growing from a seed into a sapling, and then into a large, mature tree. Although we feed dead trees into our pulp and lumber mills, we humans do not think of wood as food because we do not eat it ourselves. However, there are many small organisms that do eat wood, including insects like the mountain pine beetle. That this is the fate of every single tree that falls in a forest is shown by the fact that these tree carcasses eventually disappear, leaving no trace of their existence. The rate of decomposition is more rapid in a tropical rain forest, where there are no winters, but even in a temperate forest, no tree, not even the largest, will endure for more than a few centuries.
And yet, even though they do not remain intact, and leave no trace of their majestic living grandeur, the fact that they grew in this place, died, and were decomposed into smaller and smaller bits after their death certainly has a positive effect on improving the fertility of the area. Into this natural cycle, which in some areas has probably been proceeding for many millions of years, comes the cunning and selfish human being, who sees all these ancient trees, a testament to Nature’s bountiful fertility, and thinks only of ways to make money by cutting them down and transforming them into various useful products, at least when viewed from the narrow human perspective.
The systematic removal of all the trees in a forest, a foolish practice called clear-cutting, has several effects: first, you are starving the very many organisms that would otherwise have feasted on these trees when they died; and second, by removing these tree carcasses, you are gradually depleting the soil’s fertility. In agricultural regions, every farmer knows that you cannot keep planting crops on a plot of land and expect that it will yield the same bountiful harvest if you do not replenish the soil on a regular basis. Because annual plants do not have the time to develop deep root systems, they extract the nutrients they need only from the upper layer of soil. Hence, the depletion of soil fertility is more rapid on land that is planted with annual plants than it is on land that is planted with large mature trees, whose roots can penetrate much deeper into the ground. But even in the latter case, the common practice of cutting down all the plant growth in a region and not replenishing it, or not allowing it to replenish itself by the natural cycle of growth, death, and decay, will eventually lead to a reduction in the soil’s fertility. In the case of forests, this reduction in fertility will not become immediately apparent because, first of all, trees have been growing – and dying and being decomposed – in these areas for very long periods of time, and second, because tree roots can grow deeply into the ground and extract nutrients that are not available to annual crops such as wheat and rice. Clearly, when regarded from the Law of Balance, it is exceedingly foolish to continue to remove all the trees in a region and expect that this process can be repeated indefinitely, without any harmful long-term effects.
To understand the reason for the mountain pine beetle infestation, then, we need to consider the effects that this devastation has on the areas where it occurs. Although pine beetles are able to kill large, mature trees, they are not able to cause them to fall down. However, a dead standing tree will eventually topple over in the course of time, at which point the many organisms that live in or on the soil will have easier access to these tree carcasses. In other words, the reason for these recurring beetle infestations, which infestations our vaunted human science and technology have been powerless to prevent, is because the practice of repeatedly clear-cutting a forested area is starving these organisms of their source of food. These tiny beetles, in their vast numbers, are trying to compensate for the highly disruptive – and wholly unnatural – practice of clear-cutting, which has had calamitous effects on these regions. But instead of leaving these dead trees to be eaten and decomposed, thus enriching the soil from which they arose, the stupid human practice is to remove them and try to salvage some money from their not-very-valuable wooden remains. Truly, human stupidity and greed know no bounds.
Why have the many scientists who have studied this problem not been able to see the obvious solution? The reason is because science proceeds by attempting to break down problems into narrower and narrower components and then treat these components individually. Although this has been the reason for science’s many undoubted successes, it is also, in many instances, science’s blind spot or Achilles Heel. Clearly, there are cases when what is required is a more holistic approach. And when the problem is viewed from this global perspective, then the answer may become immediately obvious, as in this case.