Published on September 17, 2013
A pine beetle ravaged forest is seen in northern British Columbia -- their presence marked by red trees.
University of Northern British Columbia photo
Published on September 17, 2013
Entomologist Rory McIntosh from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment’s department of forests is seen in the Saskatchewan Forest Centre on Tuesday, following a presentation he gave during a Prince Albert Model Forest board meeting.
Herald photo by Tyler Clarke
Seen as inevitable by most experts, the mountain pine beetle’s eastern advancement is expected to continue through Saskatchewan.
In British Columbia, the beetles killed an estimated 700 million cubic metres of lodgepole pine trees between 1998 and 2011.
“That’s, in itself, reason to be concerned for us,” entomologist Rory McIntosh said on Tuesday.
Invited to speak at the Prince Albert Model Forest’s monthly board meeting, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment insect and disease expert’s presentation came with optimistic overtones.
B.C. houses forests full of lodgepole pine trees killed by the beetle -- at that point, a lost cause, McIntosh said.
Affected forests in Alberta and southern Saskatchewan -- mainly Jack pine -- appear with much spottier damage.
“It’s a very, very different kettle of fish,” McIntosh said of the Prairies’ battle with the beetle, adding that here, unlike much of B.C., “there’s a possibility of doing something.”
Following this mentality, the Saskatchewan and Alberta governments have banded together to plan a course of action.
The hope now is to halt the beetles’ eastern advancement through Wild Rose Country.
“We’re focusing our attention outside of our province to prevent it from coming into our province,” McIntosh explained.
“We’ve got a fairly extensive grid of tree baits (with beetle pheromone) that extends from Alberta into Saskatchewan, so we should have a pretty good idea of the spread if it crosses the border,” he said. “I say ‘if,’ but it probably will.”
The furthest east that beetles have been seen in the north has been in baited trees near Fort McMurray, about 50 kilometres west of the Saskatchewan border, although they’ve been more predominantly noted further west in the Slave Lake area.
The government removes infested trees at the leading edge of the beetles’ eastern infestation line. Further west, this zero tolerance approach has been abandoned.
To the south, pine beetles have been noted in the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, where affected trees are cut, piled and burned.
The two provinces have mapped the beetles’ eastern advancement, including their northern passage. Initially expecting them to pass through the Meadow Lake Provincial Forest, they’re now expected to pass through the Peter Pond Lake area.
Baited trees have been set up and a helipad has been installed for annual inspections, so they know on a yearly basis what they’re up against.
So far, no beetles have been detected in Saskatchewan’s north.
With the forestry industry already struggling, beetles’ presence in Saskatchewan would exasperate things, as the situation in B.C. has already shown.
We’re focusing our attention outside of our province to prevent it from coming into our province. Entomologist Rory McIntosh
Pine beetle-damaged wood has a limited shelf life, McIntosh said, noting that once the beetles kill the tree, it dries out and cracks within a few years.
The beetles also stain the wood blue – something that McIntosh said has come with “mixed reviews.”
“Initially in British Columbia, the blue staining was an issue with the pulping process,” he said.
On the other hand, what has been branded “denim wood” has been selling well in construction projects.
Overall, it’s proven detrimental to long-term economics, since legions of dead trees must be cut in a short period of time -- British Columbia’s 700 million cubic metres of pine beetle-damaged trees is far too great a mass for the industry to possibly handle, with the dead trees instead becoming fire hazards.
The Prince Albert Model Forest has been in contact with the Prince George, B.C.-based model forest organization Resources North, from whom they’re likely to learn a great deal, Prince Albert Model Forest general manager Susan Carr said.
“They’ve already gone through this experience of being in a high attack zone, and they’ve seen how it’s affected the local economies, so we want to work with them to learn from their experience,” she said, adding that this is one area the model forest will continue to look into.
In Saskatchewan, the pine beetle attacks Jack pine, which makes up 33 per cent of softwood manufactured in the province -- a harvest that averaged $1.2 million annually in crown revenues before recent mill closures.
Half of the wood that will be required at the Prince Albert Pulp Mill, currently undergoing $300 million in refurbishment, will be Jack pine.
As such, the mountain pine beetle poses a significant ecological and economic risk to Saskatchewan, McIntosh said.
“We see this as an opportunity to significantly slow (the beetles’) flow in hopes that we’ll have a climate event that might collapse this outbreak,” he said of the government’s efforts to delay or stop the beetles’ eastern advance.
“A lot of this stuff is reactive. The only real long-term response is forest-based, and that has to do with distribution and age class of the forest.”