My name is Steven DeWitt and I’m a photographer based in Eagle County, Colorado. I moved here from New England more than a decade ago and fell in love with the mountains and rivers and forests and the adventures that happen in these incredible places. During that time, I’ve also seen winters get shorter, watched the lodgepole pine forests die and been witness to a radical transformation of the Natural World.
The Lodgepole Project is my conservation photography project that uses the historic mountain pine beetle epidemic as a vehicle to educate a larger audience about the impacts human generated climate change is having on North America’s forests as well as to explore the human response to the infestation.
Presented as a touring fine art exhibition and limited edition book beginning in 2015, The Lodgepole Project’s goals are to raise awareness, to educate and to highlight the achievable solutions to human generated climate change.
Pinus contorta subspecies latifolia, commonly known as the Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine tree, grows from the Alaskan interior and Canada’s Northwest Territories, east to Saskatchewan and the Black Hills of South Dakota, south to Colorado, central Utah, and eastern Oregon. One of the oldest species on the continent, lodgepole pine is considered a Foundational Species in western forest ecosystems.
The mountain pine beetle (dendroctonus ponderosae) is a native insect found in all lodgepole pine forests. Along with periodic regional drought and fire, lodgepoles actually need mountain pine beetle infestation to help continue the species.
For nearly twenty years, millions of acres of lodgepole pine forests have been destroyed by an unprecedented infestation of native mountain pine beetles, creating cascading impacts to forest biodiversity. Human generated climate change has triggered a devastating chain reaction spawning destructive ecosystem imbalances in North America’s western forests.
The mass die-off of the lodgepole pine is alarming. Unfortunately, it’s just the beginning. The United States Forest Service is reporting a native spruce beetle (dendroctonus rufipennis) epidemic that is on track to dramatically eclipse the devastation wrought by the mountain pine beetle epidemic.
With millions of acres of forest consumed by insect infestations, the carbon that’s been stored in those millions of acres is being released back into our atmosphere over a short period of time, exacerbating the root cause that started the destruction. Historic drought and enormous increases in forest fuel loads help to dramatically increase the risk of mega-firestorms, which sterilize the top 12 inches of forest soil that has taken millennia to create.
Taking a cue from biologist Sam Labudde, The Lodgepole Project provides the visual truth of the infestation as a method to inspire people into positive action. For, as Sam points out, “the visual truth of a situation can move millions of people, and their outcry moves politicians and bureaucrats.”
Photography will help to present the science behind the epidemic as well as to explore the human response to the epidemic. I’m currently in the process of creating portraits of scientists, historians, First Nations, artists, politicians, environmentalists, writers, foresters and professional athletes.
To learn more and to get involved please visit The Lodgepole Project.