Thursday, December 29, 2011

New, bigger army sets out to smash beetles

Two years ago, David Gonzales started a small army he called TreeFight. His citizen soldiers, more than 100 strong, took to the backcountry, waging a war against mountain pine beetles killing the valuable and now endangered whitebark pine trees. The fighters stapled their secret weapon, pouches filled with pheromones, to the tree. The verbenone, a pheromone mountain pine beetles use to communicate, was meant to confuse the beetles by sending the signal that the tree was full and to leave it alone. More than 100 of Gonazales' volunteers attempted to protect more than 1,000 trees. Yet, thousands more continued to die. This summer, Gonzales plans to create a larger army to continue the fight. In addition to working with volunteers protecting trees on hikes, he's launching a new educational component of TreeFight, teaching the next generation about the importance of whitebark pine and how it can protect the species. The nonprofit will focus on working with kids in the outdoors. "It's the ultimate classroom," Gonzales said. "I wish I had gone to classes in a whitebark forest when I was young." Gonzales is working on the lessons that will teach students about ecology in an immersive and adventurous way, he said. While showing students whitebark pine trees at 9,000 feet, kids will also learn how to travel safely and comfortably in the mountains. Gonzales plans to partner with the Teton County School District and hopes to forge relationships with other organizations, such as the Teton Science School, he said...more

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