Mountain pine beetle in steep decline in Alberta since 2019 peak
January 23, 2024 By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
There’s one big reason to praise the periods of deep freeze like the one Alberta recently experienced.
The extreme cold has done much to assist the province’s efforts in battling the mountain pine beetle.
Mountain pine beetle populations in Alberta have declined 98 per cent since their peak in 2019, according to a press statement from the Ministry of Forestry and Parks.
Extended periods of extreme cold below -38 C can cause up to 95 per cent mortality of over-wintering mountain pine beetles, according to data obtained from the Government of Alberta’s Open Data website.
The destructive tree pest made its resurgence in the early 2000s, and it has since affected approximately 2.5 million hectares of pine forest across Alberta.
It carries a blue-stain fungi that clogs and destroys the conductive tissue of an affected tree when it burrows into the tree to feed and take cover.
The mountain pine beetle is able to kill large tracts of mature pine, which can threaten communities, industry and forest resilience in general. The province has been actively managing mountain pine beetle for more than 15 years.
The Ministry of Forestry and Parks says that there are still 5.5 million hectares that is susceptible to the mountain pine beetle. That forestry is valued at more than $11 billion, the press statement said.
“The mountain pine beetle is a significant threat to our province’s forested lands, and we are working hard to protect the health of our forests and the livelihoods of thousands of Albertans,” said Minister of Forestry and Parks Todd Loewen.
“I am proud of the progress we have made in controlling the spread of mountain pine beetles throughout Alberta.”
In Jasper National Park, the last population survey in late 2022 showed that the mountain pine beetle’s numbers have dropped 94 per cent since 2019.
The survey also showed a sharp decline in trees killed by the pest for the fourth consecutive year with zero living larvae found.
In order to mitigate the risk of wildfire and other negative impacts to the forest industry, watersheds and endangered species, the province will continue to invest in the mountain pine beetle control program to ensure its continued success.
The program has both short- and long-term strategies that start from direct population management using singe tree control treatments to changing the amount and distribution of mature pine across the landscape through targeted harvesting.
Ground operations are underway in southwestern areas of the province, the release noted.
The program’s larger goal is to reduce the opportunity for the mountain pine beetle to spread, particularly throughout the watersheds of the eastern slopes and into the larger surrounding boreal forests.
This is intended to encourage a more natural diversity of tree ages that will overall be more resilient to threats from destructive insects, disease and wildfire.
Scott Hayes is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Jasper Fitzhugh.
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