Prince George, British Columbia, Canada — The health of Canadas forests is making headlines all across the country. In B.C. its the on going battle with the mountain pine beetle and how to adapt local economies in its wake. There is a great deal of work underway to try and reduce the potential spread of the mountain pine beetle to Alberta, and eventually the rest of the country. There is also an issue on the east coast, where the brown spruce longhorn beetle is killing trees in Halifax. Officials there have just expanded the containment area. There is an ash boring bug in southern Ontario.
There are really amazing multi jurisdictional efforts underway to deal with these problems says Dr. Allan Carroll, Research Scientist with Natural Resources Canada.
The recent expansion of the beetle across the Rockies into northeastern B.C. and adjacent Alberta has spawned an effort on the part of the British Columbian Ministry of Forests, the Alberta Sustainable Resources Department as well as industry on both sides of the border to deal with range expansion and hopefully suppress that population. It is an effort that really is unparalleled in my opinion and has, to date, been very effective.
So with so many departments across the country working on regional problems, why no national forest health strategy? Perhaps that is in the offing, says Carroll, but until such a time, we seem to be dealing reasonably well with the issues that are arising.
There are some who say that by the time there is political will to deal with an identified problem, the problem is too big to deal with. Carroll says if we are to look at trying to avoid insect type disturbances in the forest, that would require a major shift in how we manage our forests We do fairly well with fire suppression says Carroll who says that model could be worth following We do a lot of monitoring of our forests year in year out and pounce upon any evidence of potential ignition points for a forest fire, that might be the model to follow in the case of insect management, get on it early and deal with it before it has the chance to expand into a problem that is too large to handle. Although some experts would argue that we have become so good at preventing forest fires, we have provided lots of prime timber for the beetle It all becomes a balance, and my recommendation of a fire suppression like approach to perhaps deal with pest management would have to embrace an ecologically balanced views of things.
The mountain pine beetle has surfaced in some other species of trees, but Carroll doesnt think that is a major cause for alarm I think the beetle is doing exactly what the beetle does, and everything that it does certainly is predictable. He says he is not surprised that the beetle has attacked spruce Weve seen where the beetle runs out of its preferred host tree, which is a mature pine tree, it will take a stab at a spruce or Douglas fir and so on and so forth, Most times, almost without exception, those are unsuccessful attacks but in this particular outbreak, given its size and extent, it is not surprising that eventually we would get one or two mountain pine beetles successfully survive in spruce. That doesnt mean the Mountain pine beetle will suddenly switch and become a spruce pest There is a great deal of evolutionary alternation that would be required before the mountain pine beetle could survive in spruce.
Carroll says it will some time yet before the mountain pine beetle is no longer a topic of discussion. The last major outbreak was on the Chilcotin Plateau in 85 – 86 and this year, mills in that region are still dealing with merchantable timber from that outbreak. So certainly I think we can consider the same sort of thing with this outbreak, 20 years down the road well still be talking about it.