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The Beetle That's Chewing Up America

Pine beetles are killing vast swaths of forest and devastating towns
Colorado’s Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest
Colorado’s Medicine Bow-Routt National ForestPhotograph by Brian Howell/USFS Rocky Mountain Region

The western U.S., already suffering an historic drought, is also battling another Old Testament-worthy plague: a tiny insect with a monster appetite. Pine beetles, each the size of a grain of rice, are obliterating forests, ravaging towns, draining city budgets, and threatening tourism at ski resorts, golf courses, and national parks. The beetles’ economic impact is emerging two decades into a growing infestation fueled by climate change and drought that has wiped out 38,000 square miles of trees—an area the size of Indiana and Rhode Island combined. Dead trees dominate vistas in the Rockies, Tetons, Cascades, and the Sierra Nevada.