By Tony Kryzanowski
What many people predicted as inevitable has happened. A mountain pine beetle infestation building up in Jasper National Park appears to have become an epidemic and is now spreading east into Alberta’s commercial forest.
Foresters working along the park’s eastern edge say that there has been a ten-fold increase in beetle infestation in just months. Richard Briand, Woodlands Manager for West Fraser’s Hinton and Edson areas, says that they removed about 40,000 infested trees in 2017. They have been notified that the number now is about half-a-million.
The concern is that there is nothing separating the edge of the park’s forest from Alberta’s commercial forest, and that is raising serious alarm bells in forestry-dependent communities like Hinton and Edson.
This represents an immediate threat to Alberta’s forest industry and potentially to Canada’s entire pine forest without immediate and significant countermeasures. What should be of concern to the entire Canadian forest industry is that scientists have already proven that the beetle will attack jackpine.
Based on the work of forest companies harvesting in the midst of the national park boundary, it seems that they have been doing their part within Alberta’s Mountain Pine Beetle Management Strategy by harvesting over-mature pine that tends to attract the beetle. The province also has a Healthy Pine Strategy, recognizing that 60 per cent of its pine forest is 80 years or older. A total of 16 plans have been approved under this strategy. It prioritizes mature and over-mature pine within forest harvest plans to reduce the amount of susceptible pine by up to 75 per cent by 2026.
Truly, there has been some effort in the park to control the beetle, like prescribed burns, establishing buffers between the park boundary and commercial forest, and mobilizing crews to harvest and burn small infestations. But the fact is that park managers were faced with a no-win situation. It’s a park, after all, and when attempting to manage a park as naturally as possible, the concept of accepting the beetle as a ‘natural disturbance’ has some merit.
Despite these measures, it’s quite obvious that the federal government needs to change its strategy. Tweezers won’t work anymore. It’s time to break out the chainsaw.
That sentiment is shared by Paul Whittaker, president and CEO of the Alberta Forest Products Association (AFPA).
“We have a chance here in Alberta to stop an epidemic that could go nationwide,” he wrote in an opinion piece published in the Edmonton Journal recently. “The beetle has been left to run wild in Jasper National Park, but federal funding would go a long way to stopping it from spreading further.”
While it is easy to point fingers as to who is to blame for allowing this infestation to escalate in the first place, the goal now should be not to panic. We must leave it to the professionals, who to this point in Alberta have actually done a remarkably good job of keeping the beetle infestation at bay. It seems that we did learn a lot from what happened when the beetle devastated the forestry sector in the B.C. Interior.
The biggest lessons learned were to be ready to counterattack now, take no prisoners, and never, ever underestimate the beetle’s ability to adapt and survive. Sitting on the sidelines to watch Nature unfold is no longer an option.
Natural disturbance has found a new and dangerous gear. The focus has to be on how to deal with the sudden, and relatively short term, collapse of the lodgepole pine forest in the park, with the goal of also minimizing the potential for massive forest fires in the park and beyond.
Whittaker points to the $85 million spent to effectively control a beetle outbreak between 2007-2008 in the Grande Prairie area.
“Now, $85 million is a lot of money, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $9 billion in damages, firefighting costs, and lost productivity that the fire in Fort McMurray caused,” he writes.
Should aggressive, winter-only, commercial logging be allowed in the park for a short duration to mitigate the potential for future, high intensity forest fires that could spread into the commercial forest? This activity would salvage some commercial value before the dying and dead forest turns into a matchbox like the B.C. Interior. Yes, short term logging should be allowed, in addition to some carefully controlled prescribed burns to maintain the park’s natural biodiversity.
While allowing the beetle and forest fire cycle to run its course might be defensible as a natural disturbance in ordinary times, these are not ordinary times. Climate change is impacting our weather patterns and expanding the beetle’s natural environment. We must recognize this threat and react appropriately, starting with adequate funding of a countermeasures program for the coming year.
On the Cover:
For Vancouver Island logger Jesse Drover of JBM Falling Ltd, getting involved in steep slope logging was a natural progression. Drover operated a feller buncher for 13 years, so he was very familiar with mechanical harvesting before starting work with the ClimbMax steep slope harvester—and the tethered harvesting system is working out well for him, doing steep slope logging on the Island. (Cover photo by Paul MacDonald).
Keep on truckin’…
The BC Forest Safety Council—and forest industry—are taking a leadership role in a training program for new logging truck drivers in the province, spurred on by the large number of experienced logging truck drivers retiring.
Taking over—and tackling steep slopes
The next generation is gradually taking over at B.C.’s Van Ommen Contracting, and they’re finding steep slopes ahead of them—but there’s good equipment out there to tackle those steep slopes.
A great fit for steep slopes, Island style
The New Zealand-developed and built ClimbMax tethered harvesting system is making its mark on Vancouver Island—and logger Jesse Drover says the steep ground they have to work in is ideal for the ClimbMax.
Co-operative contracting in Quebec
Quebec’s Eclaircie Gaspesie contract logging operation has found its own path to success: a combination of equipment operators David Lévesque and Sebastian LeBlanc, along with forestry co-operative Groupement forestier cooperative Baie des Chaleurs—supported by solid Ponsse equipment.
SATCO head gets thumbs-up in Alberta
Alberta logging operation R. Bruce Erickson Construction says their new SATCO processing head is performing well, with the company’s Cody Erickson giving the head the thumbs-up both in its production capabilities and precision.
Kiwi super sawmill
The recent start-up of a new line at the Red Stag sawmill in New Zealand has created a lot of excitement, as the mill could now be the largest in the southern hemisphere—and there’s certainly no doubt that it is super fast and super accurate.
The next big thing in plywood
Already known for embracing technology and innovation, Oregon’s Freres Lumber is now taking its operations a step further, building a specialized manufacturing facility to produce the company’s newest innovation, Mass Plywood Panels.
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, Alberta Innovates, Alberta Agriculture and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
It’s time for a mountain pine beetle battle plan—involving the Feds—in Jasper National Park, says Tony Kryzanowski.