The bug battle continues
October 27, 2015 - Droughts experienced throughout many of the forests across Western Canada played a key role in forest fires that took place this past summer. As the weather cools and fall settles in, the rain has started to return to some regions to feed water-starved forests. Unfortunately in many cases, the damage has been done and has opened the door to a new, but familiar threat - insects.
By Andrew Snook
The dehydrated forests in the region are prone to the attacks of insects such as the mountain pine beetle (MPB), which are finding their new homes in Alberta and Saskatchewan, feasting on jack pine.
The two provinces are investing money and resources into measures such as removing older pine trees, but this will only slow the progress of the MPB, it will not stop it.
In 2014, MPB destroyed almost 19 million hectares of pine forest. The beetles are capable of killing all species of pine, including lodgepole, jack, ponderosa, whitebark, limber and Scots.
Although much of the MPB epidemic has left B.C., outside of the Peace Region, this doesn’t mean that B.C. forests are in the clear.
Allan Carroll, a forest scientist at the University of British Columbia recently stated in an interview with The Globe and Mail that MPB is “just one of a whole suite of possible issues” that can hit B.C. forests.
Douglas-fir beetles and the western spruce budworm are creating growth loss and mortality in Douglas fir trees throughout southern B.C., and those aren’t the only insects that Western Canada needs to worry about. The spruce beetle could potentially make its way into B.C. through Yukon and Alaska, and attack the province’s spruce population.
So how do the western provinces battle these bugs?
In the case of MPB invading Alberta and Saskatchewan, preventative measures like cutting down old pine is one step that helps slow the process. Another is to do the opposite of what most Canadians do when flurries start to fall from the sky, and pray for a cold, but fluctuating, fall-winter-spring weather pattern.
According to Alberta Environment and Parks, MPB larvae die in proportion to the severity of
temperature changes in the winter. It states that the temperature at which the MPB begin to die off is not fixed, but changes based on the larvae’s response to daily temperature fluctuations. Here’s an example taken from the provincial website:
An under-bark temperature of –37°C will kill 50 per cent of a mountain pine beetle population, even in mid-winter; however, a low temperature of –20°C in the fall, before the beetles are prepared for winter, or in the spring, when beetles are starting to become more active, will also kill beetles if it is preceded by temperatures above 0°C. The relatively warmer temperature causes the larvae to start to lose its natural antifreeze.
This doesn’t mean a cold winter season will solve the MPB problems, but it wouldn’t hurt.
In the case of Douglas-fir beetles, the solution may take collaboration between local residents, government officials and industry in the logging and woody biomass sectors.
According to B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, things that can help prevent Douglas-fir beetle damage to properties and forests include: ensuring firewood collected is not infested with Douglas-fir beetle; selecting dry logs for firewood; removing and burning trees that are attacked by beetles on one’s property; informing B.C. Forest Services of beetles found on Crown land; and never cutting and leaving green Douglas-fir trees on a property, since the felled trees may attract Douglas-fir beetles.
It’s the last piece of advice that stands out to me. It’s a known fact that some logging companies will leave biomass on forest floors where they are performing harvesting operations – and for good reason, they can’t justify the costs associated with transporting them. But does this practice increase the possibility of beetle infestation in certain areas?
And if so, can the woody biomass industry and the logging industry come to some sort of understanding to get that potential beetle bait out of the area? Maybe with a little help in the form of a government incentive, perhaps?
After all, nobody wins when the beetles are eating everyone’s lunch.