Beauty inside

This small beetle threatens millions of trees in northern Italy. The residents retaliate.

In the vast forests of northern Italy, the inhabitants face a menacing enemy.

It’s not a bear, wolf or any other type of intimidating carnivore. Instead, it’s a small, harmless-looking bark beetle.

This insect may not look like much, but it is capable of massive destruction, munching through millions of acres of trees.

Armed with Durability forestry techniques and community spirit, now the inhabitants are fighting back.

Why is the bark beetle such a threat in Trentino?

The forests of Trentino are beautiful – but they are under threat.

The little beetle digs inside trees, chewing their bark. The infestation cuts off the flow of nutrients, ultimately killing the host plant.

There are over 600 species of bark beetles. These fearsome insects have decimated more than 100,000 square kilometers of forest in the western United States since 2000.

In Europe, the beetle is a plague across Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Italy and Slovakia.

Climate change has accelerated the spread of the threat, as droughts weaken tree defenses and warmer temperatures protect larvae from normal winter mortality.

But in Trentino, the Thumbtack is a relatively new threat.

“Storm Vaia was the decisive moment,” says Caterina Gagliano, technical manager of the forest service of the Paneveggio Pale di San Martino natural park.

“You could say that this is the starting point, the zero point, of this story.”

In October 2018, the extremely destructive storm Vaia ravaged the region, tearing 18,300 trees and destroying infrastructure.

North-eastern Italy lost 8 million cubic meters of wood (?) – the equivalent of 70,000 football pitches – including 4 million cubic meters in the Trentino region.

After two days of high winds and driving rain, the storm subsided.

But another danger would soon arise.

When there is a normal amount of wood‘bostrico’ bark bugs devour wood left on the ground, ‘cleaning’ the forest.

But in Trentino, many trees that survived were significantly weakened – and the bostrico sought them out.

“The insect is capable of attacking, stressing and killing our trees“says Gagliano.

“They were already mined by Vaia, so they were weak”

The Trentino Tree Agreement

Although the threat is serious, the people of Trentino are fighting back.

After the passage of the Vaia storm, they founded the Trentino Tree Agreement – “a pact between man and treesto rebuild the forest.

“Vaia’s night was not just a calamity: it also proved to be a proof of immediate solidarity. The repair machine started quickly, ”explains the TTA site.

“But above all, Vaia gave us the opportunity to slow down and reflect to question ourselves on the beauty but also on the fragility of our mountains, on the relationship between nature and man, on the need to change.

The storm – and the plague of bugs that followed – exposed the vulnerability of these beautiful woods.

By removing dead trees, workers can stop the spread of the beetle.

But forest management services also look to the longer term.

The Rangers try to diversify the types of trees planted in the forest, by planting conifers and hardwoods next to vulnerable spruces.

“With healthy trees, the natural cycle will start again. We are introducing more species into the forest, reducing monoculture,” says Gagliano.

“A blend is power.”

Anyone can join the TTA, donating as much as they see fit for rehabilitation efforts. It is also financed by the local municipal bodies of the autonomous region.

Is the Trentino forest exploited in a sustainable way?

The forests in this region have been logged for hundreds of years and still account for 43% of Italy’s timber production.

But they are permanently registeredwith 30 percent of the territory under environmental protection.

Trees felled under strict management plans. Most of the region’s forests are certified by the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), a global alliance of organizations that certify sustainable forestry practices.

“We call this ‘close to nature’ management. We try to respect and mimic natural processes,” says Gagliano.

“We try to find a balance between economic and ecological means.

“These are semi-natural forests – they are modified by human intervention. It’s normal. But we try to respect natural regeneration.”