By Jim Stirling
Not another beetle epidemic in the British Columbia Interior!
Well no, not yet at least—and this time it’s a different beetle with different habits. But the consternation was heartfelt when confirmation filtered through to the grocery store aisles and coffee shops in and around the town of Mackenzie that spruce bark beetle populations had surged in parts of the Omineca district.
The memories of the devastation caused by the mountain pine beetle epidemic remains raw. The impacts are encountered daily as the salvage of marketable pine continues. The effects are also reflected in higher priced sawlogs across a landscape significantly changed by the pine beetle infestation.
But there’s to be no sitting idly by this time, waiting for colder temperatures or serendipity to curtail beetle populations. This summer, a collaborative and coordinated battle plan is swinging into action with the timely targeting of key areas of the spruce beetles’ activities. The B.C. government has pledged a $1 million war chest to fight the beetle numbers during this fiscal year.
“It’s going to be a very important year for suppression,” declares Heather Wiebe, resource manager with the Ministry of Forests, Lands & Natural Resource Operations, based in Mackenzie. Wiebe is also the Omineca Spruce Beetle project manager, which means she’s spearheading the collaborative and co-ordinated efforts being taken to quell the beetles’ population centres.
The spruce beetles became an identifiable issue on the landscape during the 2014 forest fire season. Reconnaissance flights revealed heavy concentrations of the spruce beetle in areas along drainages primarily to the east of Mackenzie and the northern areas of the Prince George Timber Supply Area.
“It was the first time we knew we had a problem,” says Wiebe.
The forests ministry and its contractors reacted quickly to learn more about the extent of the infestations and devise plans to best contain beetle populations. A program of susceptibility mapping and detailed surveying followed.
It was a more difficult challenge to identify the green attack areas around the infestation hot spots. Those are the areas where harvesting areas are more likely to be directed. “Ground detection is so very important,” stresses Wiebe.
The spruce beetles—like their mountain pine counterparts—are a natural part of the forest ecosystem, with populations rising and falling in cycles.
It’s when those cycles are interrupted that natural balances change with far reaching consequences. The interconnected reactions to a warming climate, along with more extremes of weather types, takes a cumulative toll on how the forest functions.
The spruce in the Omineca district don’t cover swathes of the entire forest landscape: they are typically found more in patches. The mountain pine, by contrast, had valley after valley of its favoured homogenous hosts. The spruce beetle prefers large windblown spruce. It got its wish with severe blowdown in the region in 2010.
Consistently warm winters have continued in the Omineca. An effect of those have been a compressing of the spruce beetle’s normal two year life cycle to one year, increasing their numbers proportionately. Long dry summers puts trees under stress, making them less able to resist beetle attacks. The ingredients of a perfect storm were assembled, notes Wiebe.
She says better understanding how the spruce beetle infestation differs from its mountain pine counterpart has been part of the education component for the local working group of forest company licencees and the ministry in the Mackenzie region. From that understanding, it’s been better able to plot an effective control strategy. And that is twofold.
“We’re placing concentrated trap trees into shaded areas where they can be ten times more successful,” explains Wiebe.
Timing is critical or the window closes for a season. The spruce beetles’ annual flight occurs when the temperature reaches about 16 degrees in the forest canopy, she says, and the beetles don’t usually fly further than about 800 metres.
The second phase, planned for later this summer, is a program of targeted harvesting. This is aimed at areas outside the core infection areas: “zigzagging outside the perimeter.” The objective is to harvest the green attack spruce, thereby helping control future spread.
Throughout the planning stages for this summer’s on-ground assault, efforts have been made to involve and inform other groups. “We understand the forest values between licencees, contractors and us (the ministry),” points out Wiebe. “But we also have a public advisory group to guide us on other non-timber uses of forests in the Omineca.”
Regional First Nations groups have also been actively involved in the beetle planning process and are continuing to be, she adds. “As stewards of the land, they understand the changes that are taking place.”
The spruce beetle infestations throw a further spanner into the harvest planning works for regional licencees and their contractors. The logistics of moving harvesting equipment about in a large district to access the concentrated areas of beetle attack are complicated and expensive. De-activated roads and bridges may in some cases have to be brought back into industrial standard service. “The licencees are being very pro-active in co-ordinating planning for where they’re going to be,” she credits.
Wiebe believes in taking a holistic approach to the spruce beetle situation and encouraging an open dialogue between all involved parties from the beginning. And, she adds, other areas in the province with spruce beetle issues or potential issues are taking note of the Omineca approach.
“Others across B.C. are looking at what we’re developing here to help them run faster.”
The bitter experience with the mountain pine beetle infestation is undoubtedly a factor in mobilizing action. “It’s one of those issues that brings people together. It unifies,” believes Wiebe. “And that’s a reason why I’m very happy with how things have progressed so far.”
On the Cover:
On the B.C. Coast, it’s about getting the wood to the water, but before it hits the water, it needs to be harvested in the woods. And this September will see the full range of harvesting equipment working at the DEMO 2016 show being held in Maple Ridge, B.C. Please see the preview story on DEMO, beginning on page 28 of this issue. (Photo of B.C. dryland sort by Paul MacDonald).
Beetle attack: but this time it’s the spruce beetle
As if the B.C. Interior has not been hit hard enough by the mountain pine beetle, there have been recent increases in the spruce beetle population in the Central Interior of B.C. Details on what is being done to fight/contain the latest scourge in the forests.
EACOM Timber partnered with equipment supplier Autolog to optimize the company’s Val D’Or and Timmins sawmills, achieving value uplift at both operations, strengthening them and giving them more market resilience.
Logging partners in profit
An award-winning logging partnership between the Quatsino First Nation and Western Forest Products on the B.C. Coast is delivering efficiencies—and profits—to the two partners.
A (sawmill) offer you can’t refuse
Weyerhaeuser Canada made Alberta sawmill owner Guido Unger a (good) offer he couldn’t refuse: the purchase of a used USNR line that will allow his sawmill to ramp up production considerably.
Coming in September: DEMO 2016
Full details on the upcoming largest logging equipment show in Canada this year: DEMO 2016, being held in Maple Ridge, B.C. from Sept. 22-24, with all of the major logging equipment manufacturers represented.
Hands-on harvesting approach
Nova Scotia logger John Dorey has been recognized by the Canadian Woodlands Forum for his hands-on approach to meeting the needs of woodlands clients, and excelling at partial harvesting.
Getting more control over log hauling
Weyerhaeuser’s Grande Prairie, Alberta timberlands operation is phasing in more tire pressure-controlled equipped log haul trucks, allowing them to increase their access on steep logging roads, even in bad weather.
More chips to go...
New Brunswick’s Billy and Ronnie Gillespie are innovators when it comes to their chipping operation
Urban logging in Alberta
Alberta’s Shawn Moore has moved beyond the oil patch, and his tree removal business has now morphed into doing urban logging—and they’re diverting trees from the landfill.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre and Alberta Innovates - Bio Solutions.
The Last Word
Winters aren’t what they used to be, and that simple fact is impacting the forest industry, says Jim Stirling.