May 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
MOUNTAIN PINE bEETLE
Fighting the beetle with research
Research into mountain pine beetle activity is yielding some interesting results,
By Jim Stirling
There’s much understandable concern about the implications of the timber supply fall down in the aftermath of the mountain pine beetle epidemic in the British Columbia Interior. How will the industrial structure change and what might be the effects on jobs and forestry-dependent communities?
It’s encouraging to note the scientific
and research communities have been
quick off the mark to examine a wide
range of issues surrounding the beetle
itself and the impacts of the epidemic on
the forest landscape and economy. Many
of the research projects that have been
initiated are collaborative in nature and
designed to provide landscape managers
and decision makers with timely and
practical information to enhance
And it introduces management
options. Perhaps it makes more sense to
redirect the cut away from those stands,
explains Burton or—on some sites—use a
partial rather than clearcutting harvesting
system to remove pine but help protect
The second year of what will hopefully
be a three-year project, funded by the provincial Forest Sciences Board, is
designed to take a look at the broader
picture, says Burton. It will employ GIS
technology to assess the future timber
supply potential across a wider area and
translate that information to data tools
like forest cover maps.
It’s a frustrating trait, says Lindgren, to
not take advantage of the partial solutions
that are available. He attributes it to two
factors. One is a turnover of people in
government and industry, which tends to
preclude an institutional memory. Two,
beetle outbreaks come in waves and
there’s no focus on acquiring knowledge
in the valleys.
Knowing what stands are likely to cause less of a problem, even when the beetles are out of control as they are now, is important, he adds.
So what stands are likely to produce more insect broods? Well, it’s very complex and still unclear. But it appears a more compact stand diameter distribution is more likely to be a source stand, he surmises.
Another part of Lindgren’s project focuses on beetle population dynamics. Most of the research into the topic has been in south-central BC and the US. Lindgren wants to find out if beetle populations in the central and northern areas of the province behave differently than their southern brethren. Early indications are they might. The northern beetles tend to utilize more of the tree to a higher level and produce more brood as a proportion of number of attacks. It’s also indicated the northern beetles can utilize thinner bark in smaller trees.
“They’re essentially suicide attacks. There are so many beetles they will attack anything and everything but they don’t produce any brood,” he believes.
With the current situation, Lindgren says we’re now paying the price for decades of influencing nature’s regular patterns of fire, insect and other disturbance. “The mountain pine beetle is a reflection on the vegetation on the landscape and if it’s old growth pine, the beetles take advantage of it,” he notes. The beetle isn’t going to go away, and the best way to deal with it is management of the lodgepole pine rather than the beetle, he adds. Lindgren, like Burton, expects more mixed species forests in the future and echoes the need for changes in forest legislation. Forest companies are obliged to replant areas they log with seedlings and monitor them to a free-to-grow stage. They frequently choose lodgepole pine because it’s a very hardy species that grows fast and beats out competitive vegetation very well. The pine reaches free-to-grow stage earlier, saving forest companies money.
“Free-to-grow regulations, while well intended, are causing problems because they favour lodgepole pine over the planting of other species. From a forest health point of view, we need to get away from that,” says Lindgren. It’s not just the mountain pine beetle threat. He cites the incidence of fungal disease —a needle blight—that’s killing off pine plantations in wet belt areas of northwestern BC.
“They’re planting pine where it shouldn’t be in a monoculture,” he says. “We need to learn to read nature better and understand why certain species grow where they grow and not enforce our will.”
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