Pine beetles have ministry of environment concerned

Jason Kerr
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While your typical mountain pine beetle may appear to be harmless, a provincial forest entomologist and pathologist says looks can be deceiving.

Provincial forest entomologist and pathologist Dr. Rory McIntosh gives a presentation on the pine beetle at the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library on Tuesday. 

Ministry of Environment representative Dr. Rory McIntosh was at the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library on Tuesday to help educate people about how dangerous the beetle is in large groups, especially in northern Saskatchewan.

“It’s kind of safety in numbers,” he says.  “They’ll attack the tree and overcome it. They bring with them a blue stain fungus, and together they end up killing the tree.”

Largely native to the British Columbia and the western part of the United States, the beetle experience unprecedented population growth rates in 2006 and 2009.  They then dispersed across the Rocky Mountains and into Alberta, and that’s where McIntosh says they want to stop them.

“We are certainly working to prevent it from reaching Saskatchewan.   It’s not native to our forests, so we are working closely with the government of Alberta to fall and burn infested trees in northeastern Alberta.”

McIntosh says B.C.’s aging forests are largely to blame for the problem.  Mild winters, deeper snow pack levels and fewer fires created a much older tree population, which the beetle thrives on.

“That of course is the most susceptible age for the mountain pine beetle,” he explains.  “The mountain pine beetle periodically breaks out in its natural range, typically around every 12 to 15 years, but this one was unprecedented.  It was huge.”

There is a tightly controlled beetle population in Cyprus Hills, but Saskatchewan’s northern boreal forests have never seen anything like this.  McIntosh says it’s not something to be taken lightly.

“These are now beetles that are coming into a novel habitat, a novel environment and they haven’t evolved in it, so it’s threat to our pine forests.”

Residents are encouraged to look for little pitch tubes on their pine trees, which may be signs of beetle infestation.  McIntosh says it will appear as though the tree is producing sap, but it may be trying to defend itself from the beetle.

He also encourages people to stop bringing pine firewood into Saskatchewan from Alberta.

Last November the Saskatchewan government pledged $1.1 million to help fight the infestation in Albert, hoping to stop it from reaching Saskatchewan.  This is the third year the two provinces have partnered to remove the infestation.

To fight the problem, the Alberta government cut down and burned many older trees in the Slave Lake and Marten Hills regions of the province over the winter.

Organizations: John M. Cuelenaere Public Library

Geographic location: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Northern Saskatchewan British Columbia United States Rocky Mountains Cyprus Hills Slave Lake Marten Hills regions

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