“If we don’t stop it here, really the next stop is the Atlantic Ocean, and that’s just because they won’t find any
more trees.” That comment from Alberta Forest Products Association spokesman Parker Hogan summarizes the sense of urgency required to halt the mountain pine beetle in its tracks in Alberta, even as the destructive insect expands its area of influence in the province. All Canadian pine species are susceptible to the beetle, which prefers trees between 80 and 120 years old. The most recent estimate suggests the number of infested trees in the province is between 800,000 and 1.5 million.
The forest industry’s focus is now on this summer, when the annual beetle flight takes place. This is when the mountain pine beetle makes its major migration for the year, often catching favourable winds to propel it great distances in search of new food sources.
This is how the beetle traveled so far last summer, catching brisk winds through the lodgepole pine-rich mountain passes from British Columbia, to travel as far east as Slave Lake in north central Alberta.
Between 2002 and 200_, there was an average of 1,000 infested trees per year in Alberta. In 2005, there were 19,000 infested trees. Last year, as mentioned above, that number is believed to be as high as 1.5 million. According to the Alberta Department of Sustainable Resource Development (ADSRD), 1.5 million infested trees represent enough lumber to build 9,500 houses that are 1,700 square feet in size. The Smoky Forest Area, south of Grande Prairie, has
Alberta had record-breaking low temperatures in the latter part of November. The beetle-infested area had five straight days of minus 25 degrees Celsius, including one day as low as minus 46 degrees Celsius.
“The cold spell might have, at best, a marginal impact on mountain pine beetle populations,” says Dan Lux, provincial mountain pine beetle co-ordinator for the ADSRD. “For the weather to have a significant impact, we need minus _0 degrees Celsius, not including the wind chill, for about 10 days in a row.”
The beetle produces a natural antifreeze to protect it from the cold weather. The heavy snowfall that Alberta has experienced this winter actually helped the beetle keep warm. Snow at the base of a tree acts as an insulator. It protects the tree as well as beetles that are wintering there.
Alberta has budgeted $22 million for 2006/07 to fund its mountain pine beetle Action Plan. It has established a beetle advisory committee representing a wide cross section of stakeholders and two levels of response control. Level One response puts the responsibility squarely on the provincial government. Its contain-and-control method involves falling and burning individual or smaller groups of infested trees, as well as dropping pheromone baits in areas without good access. To date, that level of response has been adequate, but that is about to change.
Level Two response involves the use of harvesting by forestry companies. Stand harvesting will be conducted when trees are confirmed to be infested with mountain pine beetles in Alberta’s working forest. cannot harvest the infested trees or if the ADSRD forestry program manager does not approve a Level Two harvest, the response level reverts to Level One. As a further control measure, an ADSRD municipal grant program offers financial assistance to municipalities that have implemented measures to control beetle populations within their areas.