Mountain Pine Beetle ~ Outdoor Hour #32 - Eva Varga

September 9, 20085

We went up to the lake on Sunday to enjoy one of the last warm weekends of the season. It was quite windy so we weren’t daring enough to take the plunge, but the kids enjoyed looking for frogs, watching dragonflies, and building a castle and moat along the shoreline.

Inspired by Theresa at LaPaz Home Learning, I took several “Not Back to School Portraits”. It was a joy to watch the kiddos enjoy themselves and interact with one another. They discovered a tiny little green frog whom they played with for some time.
The following day, we sat down on the couch to do a little ‘current events’ work that I had saved. I save articles I think the kids will find interesting in the newspaper and try to do at least one ‘current events’ assignment each week. The article I saved was from the 25th of July, titled Beetles Killing Trees, Causing More Damage Than We See. The kids were delighted to learn that the article was about the forest that surrounded the lake we visited the day before. “That’s where we went yesterday!” If you look carefully at the photos above, you can see the trees that have succumbed to the pine beetle infestation. [Had only I thought to read the article before we went up to the lake – we could have talked with the Forest Ranger to learn more.]
I read about two thirds of the article, stopping frequently to help them understand the larger vocabulary. We discussed the illustrations and photographs. Once Sweetie was comfortable, I asked her to give me an oral narration. Here is her response (note, the brackets indicate what I said to help her to elaborate or to correct miscues);

These beetles [Mountain Pine Beetles] are killing trees like Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pine near … Lake where we went yesterday. The beetles make tunnels in the new bark [inner bark] where they lay lots of eggs. Then the little larvae hatch out and they dig holes where they make a pupa. Then they dig out as a grown-up. The beetle also brings in some chemical [blue fungus] that gets on the bark and it changes blue. This kills the trees.

They [Forest Service] closed a road near … Lake because they don’t want the people to get hurted. They don’t want the [dead] trees falling down on people. [Do you recall what the foresters are doing to protect the trees?] Moving all the shrubs, sick trees and stuff to make the trees stronger. [… we discussed in more detail the process / purpose of thinning in more detail.]

When doing narrations, it is always interesting to me what details they focus on, in this case she provided the most details about the life-cycle of the beetle and how it affects the tree. We’ve always been fascinated with insects in our home (expect perhaps DH) – one of our first thematic units was on insects, in fact. So, it was no surprise that this part of the article was most interesting to her.

On the other hand, we haven’t talked much about forest ecology or how foresters work to protect the health of the forest. Her narration of this part of the article was thereby much more vague. By asking for a narration, I was able to pick up on that and we spent a few more minutes discussing the process of thinning. How it is done. How it helps the forest to be less susceptible to the pine beetle.

They now have a block of information on which to build upon during future trips to the mountain. They are better informed. The experience, coupled with reading and discussing the article, will help them better understand future lessons on ecology.


On a related note, when we had stopped by the Ranger Station to inquire about a good area to play in the water and relax on shore, I picked up a few brochures. One of which describes the need for Forest Guards; volunteers who spend a week or more at the forest station, providing assistance to the public and interpreting the ecology of the area. I asked the kiddos if they would be interested in doing something like that for a week and they were both enthusiastic. I’ll have to look into this again when the kids are older.

Edited 28 Sept 2008 – Linked to Barb’s Outdoor Hour Challenge #32: Pine Trees.

As the Ponderosa Pine is the dominant tree in our area, the kiddos are very familiar with its characteristics. Sweetie gives an oral presentation on the Ponderosa on our weekly nature walk pointing out ways to identify the tree and noting its adaptations for survival.

Medicinal Uses

  • Roots – can be used to treat indigestion.

Nutritional Value / Food Uses

  • Inner bark – raw or cooked. Best in spring. Often dried, ground into powder and used a thickener in soups or mixed with bread flour.
  • Seeds – raw or cooked. Rich in oil, can be crushed into a meal or used in making making bread.
  • Resin – chewed as gum.
  • Young male cones – chewed for juice.
  • A vanillin flavoring obtained as by-product of other resins in pulpwood. You can even smell the vanilla if you get up close and smell the bark crevices.

Interesting Facts

  • Needles fall from tree after ~3 years
  • On younger trees, bark is brownish black. Older trees develop thick, spongy bark. As trees mature, the bark color becomes a rusty orange.
  • Basketry: root fibers and needles.
  • Dyes: yellow dye from pollen, blue dye from roots, tan/green dye from needles.
  • Thick bark helps protect the Ponderosa from forest fire making it less susceptible. It also self-prunes and drops the lower, dead branches and thereby decreases the amount of fuel available for fire to reach canopy.
  • Releases chemical that prohibits growth of many other plants in its vicinity – thereby creating a park-like setting in the under-story.


  • School for Us

    September 10, 2008 at 2:44 am

    Thanks for the wonderful lesson about narration! (And, just the photos and info about the beetles) Narration is something I’m neglecting and I love your idea of saving articles from the newspaper. I’m going to start doing this!

    Also, we get Scholastic News (3rd grade – I found the younger ages too simple for my daughter and the older ages talk too much about peer pressure, etc). Anyway, it is another great way to study current events AND would be a great length for narrations.

  • Christin

    September 17, 2008 at 11:32 am

    Oh wonderful! You have given me new insight to narration. I never thought I could use it to better teach! Of course if they learn something previously, that will be the thing that sticks out the most because they are familiar with it! Makes complete sense! Thank you for sharing!

  • See Jamie blog

    September 18, 2008 at 2:40 am

    Great ideas, and an interesting lesson, too!

  • Michele

    September 28, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    What a wonderful, detailed description of nature study. That was a good idea to discuss the beetle damage. Thanks for sharing.


  • Andrea

    October 3, 2008 at 3:36 am

    Great nature study post! Thanks for the wonderful information!

Comments are closed.

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