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October 27, 2017 10:08 pm

Waging War on the Spruce Beetle

Monday, July 4, 2016 @ 5:58 AM

Prince George B.C. –  The battle against the Spruce Beetle is  in full  force, but it will be fall  before  it’s known if  the epidemic has been stemmed.

spruce beetleThe beetle has already infested  156 thousand hectares of forest in the Omineca  region, specifically  northern  reaches of the Prince George Timber Supply area,  and  the eastern valleys of the Mackenzie timber supply.

( at right,  areas  marked in red are already ‘grey” while purple areas are  considered ‘current attack’ – map courtesy  Ministry of Forests)

Trees infested by the Spruce Beetle can take  a year to 18 months to show signs  they have been  attacked.   Infested trees can  change colour from green, to yellow to red or  they can  have a green and healthy crown to  losing all their needles.  “It’s very hard to detect these trees from the air” says Heather Wiebe,  Manager  of the Omineca spruce beetle project .  That’s why there is an aerial survey with a fixed wing aircraft,  followed by helicopter  review,  and finally a ground survey.

“This file  is  about minutes and inches, the timing is crucial” says Wiebe “We get the information, let’s say, at the end of August, and we want all of the ground probing to be done before snowfall and we want licensees to be putting down trees during snowfall, so it has to be done so very quickly.”

As devastating as the Mountain Pine Beetle attack has been,  the good news says Wiebe is there are  lessons learned from that infestation  that  can be applied to the current battle ” This is one of those files that brings  people back from  retirement.  We have one of the entomologists  who had  worked on the Mountain Pine Beetle and Spruce Beetle in the past  coming out of retirement to provide assistance.  We have  Pine Beetle bosses  who had moved  off to do other  jobs  in contact with me sending me updates and lessons learned, and we’re well  connected with other  places throughout North America where  outbreaks have happened in the past. ”

In addition, she says  licensees, First Nations and the general public  are  already very  involved and it has been less than a year  since the outbreak  was  first designated.  In the case of  the Mountain Pine Beetle it took  at least  two years to  bring everyone together.

Licensees have been  responsive to harvesting  in the areas identified as being  infested, in what is  called a “sanitation harvest”.  Those cut areas are then assessed  the following year to  see if the sanitation harvest has been successful, or if more treatment is needed.

Another method being used to  battle the beetle is to cut down a healthy  mature tree  and place it in the shade.   “These trap trees suck  up the beetles like a sponge” says Wiebe. The trap trees are either   sent to the mill or bucked and burned “That will kill all the population that’s inside that tree.”

The spruce beetle naturally occurs  in  spruce forests,  but  there are a number of  things which have  allowed  this situation to  reach  epidemic proportions.   When the Mountain Pine Beetle attacked, the focus was on  pine  and  getting the most value  from those trees,  so spruce stands were  not on the radar.  The success in  wildfire suppression is also  a factor says Wiebe “But what trumps all of that is climate change.  If we had the cold winters that kill off the bugs,   they, like  the pine beetle,  will form their own anti-freeze, and if you  have those cold snaps when they’re vulnerable,  that brings down the population , if we had summers  that were wetter,  these trees would be healthier  and would be able to ‘pitch  the bugs out’,  so it really is  a combination of all these things, it  is a perfect storm.”


Why transport any of the infested trees to any of the mills? Remember the pine beetle infestation behind Dunkley Forest Products? Shouldn’t they burn the trees where they fall? Why fly around with planes and helicopters if they can’t detect anything anyways? A year from now I am going to see red trees on my property again and I am not in the northern or eastern districts.

I wonder whether the release of sterilized male beetles is being considered?

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