The fight against mountain pine beetle

It’s been almost 10 years since mountain pine beetle infestations started in south-western Alberta, killing pine trees, turning them red.  If you’ve ever flown over western Alberta, you may have noticed the tell-tale scattering of red trees – or even some dense red areas – scattered among the vast green pine forests.

Infestation of south-western Alberta began in 2002, after the insects were assisted over the mountains from British Columbia by the wind.  By 2006, infestations had spread to west-central Alberta.

Without intervention, the mountain pine beetle infestation threatening Alberta’s pine supply could result in an estimated potential negative economic impact of between $420 million and $600 million per year. This infestation also leaves our forests susceptible to fire and could result in a significantly increased wildfire risk and increased costs to fight fires

The province has launched an aggressive campaign to control the spread of the destructive mountain pine beetle – investing millions of dollars for survey and control field work, research and to reforest areas affected by infestations.

To date, nearly one million infested trees have been cut down – removing the risk of the beetles in those trees multiplying and infesting new trees. The forest industry has also joined the fight; removing infested trees through their harvesting operations.

Minister McQueen on Mountain Pine Beetle tour

Minister McQueen and media getting briefed on mountain pine beetle situation.

Today, Minister Diana McQueen and a group of ESRD forest health experts took media on a tour over areas southwest of Grande Prairie to demonstrate the value of fighting this forest pest.  We saw first-hand the summer and fall aerial survey work being done to identify trees that were attacked last year and locate areas where new populations have spread.  This information helps crews determine where to focus their control work over the winter.

We also flew over contrasting areas of the region. Areas where the risk of spread is low, areas with the greatest infestations, and areas where aggressive control strategies are being used.

Departing from Graham Base, located approximately 30 kilometres southwest of Grande Prairie, we first flew over pine forests with limited patchy red areas.  The scattered pine population makes it difficult for beetles to fly to other trees to infest so no control work is done in these areas because of the low risk level and poor connectivity of pine.

Aerial view of MPB infestation

Aerial view of mountain pine beetle infestation

Next we continued towards Pinto forestry fire lookout tower and various other ridges. This area has many dense red areas. Infestation have been active in these areas since 2006 and was hit once again in 2009 from an in-flight from British Columbia.

Our last stop on the tour took us to an area with continuous lush green pine stands. This area runs east to Hinton, Edson and Whitecourt and continues south to Rocky Mountain House and further south through Kananaskis country. Aggressive control work is done in this high risk area – tactics such as single tree removal and cut and burns are helping minimize the threat of spread.

It was a great opportunity to see the difference between areas with no active management and where control work is most aggressive.

Interesting fact: Last year 32,000 individual infested trees were cut and burned in the Smoky area. In total, 125,000 trees in the area have been cut and burned since 2007.

In the video below, Erica Samis, a forest health officer with ESRD, explain how mountain pine beetles attack and the tactics used to fight them.

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