When spruce beetles (Dendroctonus rufipennis) thin a forest canopy, surviving trees grow more rapidly for decades until the canopy closes and growth is suppressed through competition.We used measurements of tree rings to detect such growth releases and reconstruct the history of spruce beetle outbreaks at 23 mature spruce (Picea spp.) forests on and near the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska and four mature white spruce (Picea glauca) forests in Kluane National Park and Reserve, Yukon Territory. On the Kenai Peninsula, all stands showed evidence of 1-5 thinning events with thinning occurring across several stands during the 1810s, 1850s, 1870-1880s, 1910s, and 1970-1980s, which we interpreted as regional spruce beetle outbreaks. However, in the Kluane region we only found evidence of substantial thinning in one stand from 1934 to 1942 and thinning was only detected across stands during this same time period. Over the last 250 years, spruce beetle outbreaks therefore occurred commonly among spruce forests on the Kenai Peninsula, at a mean return interval of 52 years, and rarely among spruce forests in the Kluane region where cold winter temperatures and fire appear to more strongly regulate spruce beetle population size. The massive 1990s outbreaks witnessed in both regions appeared to be related to extremely high summer temperatures. Recent outbreaks on the Kenai Peninsula (1971-1996) were positively associated with the 5-year backwards running average of summer temperature. We suggest that warm temperature influences spruce beetle population size through a combination of increased overwinter survival, a doubling of the maturation rate from 2 years to 1 year, and regional drought-induced stress of mature host trees. However, this relationship decoupled after 1996, presumably because spruce beetles had killed most of the susceptible mature spruce in the region. Thus sufficient numbers of mature spruce are needed in order for warm summer temperatures to trigger outbreaks on a regional scale. Following the sequential and large outbreaks of the 1850s, 1870-1880s, and 1910s, spruce beetle outbreaks did not occur widely again until the 1970s. This suggests that it may take decades before spruce forests on the Kenai Peninsula mature following the 1990s outbreak and again become susceptible to another large spruce beetle outbreak. However, if the recent warming trend continues, endemic levels of spruce beetles will likely be high enough to perennially thin the forests as soon as the trees reach susceptible size. © 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.