Wildfires have already scorched more than one million acres across the Northwest this year. It may take years before the signs of the burns are no longer visible. But charred Northwest forests are already a-buzz with new life.
Burned forests are not quiet places.
“It’s very lively in the forest immediately after a fire," says Connie Mehmel. "Very lively. And a lot of that liveliness is insects.”
Mehmel studies insects for the U.S. Forest Service. She’s based in Wenatchee, Wash. For her, busy fire years like this one are exiting times because they bring a surge in certain bugs.
“You can walk woods through the woods and sometimes you can hear that sort of scratchy, squeaky, like something was chewing on wood.”
That would be the larvae of a wood-boring beetle she likens to the “undertaker” of dead trees. Add to that the sound of a horntail wasp.
“They make a whirring with their wings that goes, ‘wrrrrrrr.’ And you’ll hear that. Sometimes right by your ear.”
Mehmel says the same dense smoke that’s causing a public health concern acts like a beacon that draws these insects. And the insects, in turn, draw birds, like the Clark’s nut hatch.
“And they will go flying after these beetles like hawks! And catch them in the air, but then they don’t eat them in the air, they’ll land on a tree and they’ll eat that beetle and then they’ll talk to each other. They’ll ‘Kaw kaw kaw!’ I guess they’re proud of themselves or maybe exited at this great food source.”
Mehmel says there are winners and losers after every fire. She expects to see a dent in the Northwest population of a bud worm that’s been feasting on fir needles.
In that case, Mehmel says, their loss could be a gain for forest health.
Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network