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May 2004

Forest Expo Index

Tackling the beetle in the city

The city of Prince George has taken a very pro-active approach to tackling its own mountain pine beetle problem.

Mark Fercho (left), environmental services division manager for the City of Prince George, with Ken Mulroy and Bert Berry of TDB Consultants. TDB Consultants is using a Forcat 2000 small skidder/forwarder to move beetle wood from the city’s parks to open spaces where it can be safely loaded for removal.

Prince George is proud of its parks. More than 1,500 hectares of parks and open spaces are scattered engagingly around BC’s northern capital. Trees are an integral part of many of them. But the mountain pine beetle epidemic, in its unrelenting march across the BC Interior, is indiscriminate and demonstrates no respect for the urban forest. Consequently, the city, like the forest industry, is forced to develop constraint strategies. It’s a difficult process for an escalating problem. During 2001-02, the equivalent of 28 logging truck loads of beetle-infested trees within the city were removed. In the 2002-03 season, the volume mushroomed to more than 80 loads. And it’s destined to get worse, predicts Mark Fercho, manager of the environmental services division for the City of Prince George. Mother Nature needs to produce the right temperatures at critical stages in the beetle’s evolution to curtail the epidemic’s spread—and those temperatures aren’t happening.

Meanwhile, the city plans to continue treating all beetle infestations on its lands. Sites are located by aerial mapping, probes and public tips, says Fercho. The goal is to find green pine containing the beetles. “Between us and the Ministry of Forests, we are doing our best to try and keep the sites clean.” The city emphasizes low-impact, selective-harvesting techniques, including horse logging. But each site requires its specific prescription, including slope and wind firmness assessments. Single tree harvesting in a cemetery or on a golf course is different than logging the forest. There are also power lines, fences, houses, playgrounds and curious observers to consider. Harvesting requires meticulous handfalling to reduce collateral damage and sensitive stem removal. TDB Consultants of Prince George were awarded the 2004 mountain pine beetle program for the city. The company uses a Forcat 2000 small skidder/forwarder manufactured by Berfor in Quebec. It moves beetle wood from the parks and open spaces to where it can be safely loaded for removal.

Canfor, with its major operations in the region, is buying most of the city’s wood. The Berfor forwarder is only about four feet wide, but requires finesse to work at peak efficiency, observes Bert Berry, TDB’s field operations supervisor. He should know—he’s put a thousand hours on the machine. The city budgeted $85,000 to remove beetle-infested trees from municipal property. The province is contributing $95,000 to control beetle spread on provincial land in Prince George. These monies are also used to help create a beetle management plan, compile inventory and contribute to clean up. The federal government has provided nothing‚—despite repeated requests. Removal of beetle-infested trees is only part of the city’s costs. There’s no leaving woody debris where it falls. All branches have to be removed. Stumps may have to be grinded, the site rehabilitated, landscaped and re-planted where appropriate with larger caliper stems, points out Fercho. Work is scheduled for completion June 15.

Fercho reports residents generally understand why the city has to be aggressive and pro-active in its beetle program. He makes regular use of media to improve awareness. The alternative is risking 45 per cent of the natural forest cover in Prince George. That risk will become more apparent later this year. Adult beetles will fly away in search of new hosts. The needles in the pine they leave behind will turn red.

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