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At Trickle Creek in northern Alberta, Wiebo Ludwig thought he’d buffered his tiny religious community from civilization, but in 1990 civilization came calling. A Calgary oil company proposed to drill directly in view of the farm’s communal dining room.
Ludwig hadn’t realized his land ownership didn’t include mineral rights. He wrote letters, petitioned, forced public hearings, and discovered the provincial regulator cared little about landowners.
After the oil company accidentally vented raw sour gas, Ludwig’s wife miscarried. Nearby parcels of land were clear-cut. Ludwig’s northern boundary became a highway for semi-trailers loaded with drilling equipment. Seismic crews raced up and down his road. More sour gas wells popped up. People defending their property rights gradually turned into monkeywrenching terrorists. …[more]
Beginning in the late 1980s, a series of improbable bark beetle outbreaks unsettled iconic forests and communities across western North America. An insect the size of a rice kernel eventually killed more than 30 billion pine and spruce trees from Alaska to New Mexico. Often appearing in masses larger than schools of killer whales, the beetles engineered one of the world’s greatest forest die-offs since the deforestation of Europe by peasants between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries.
The beetle didn’t act alone. Misguided science, out-of-control logging, bad public policy, and a hundred years of fire suppression created a volatile geography that released the world’s oldest forest manager from all natural constraints. Like most human empires, the beetles exploded wildly and then crashed, leaving in their wake grieving landowners, humbled scientists, hungry animals, and altered watersheds. Although climate change triggered this complex event, human arrogance assuredly set the table.…[more]