This is the infestation that never ends…

 …Yes it goes on and on my friends.

The thing with invasive species is that once they’re introduced to a habitat in which they are not native, they’re extremely difficult to eradicate, especially if that population has been there for a while AND it’s in the water.

The flowering rush, Butomus umbellatus, is one such species.

Flowering rush

Continue reading

Follow the beetle: crews gear up for another year fighting Alberta’s most ‘invasive’ species

Ah, September. All over the province, students are heading back to school, the first leaves are falling…and ESRD crews are combing our forests for the evidence that will help us mount this year’s fight against the mountain pine beetle.

Each July and August, beetles leave the trees they’ve infected, and travel to new lodgepole pines. Tracking where these beetles have gone gives us the best possible chance of fighting them.

Photo of damage caused by the mountain pine beetle.

When beetles flee dying trees, they leave trademark red needles behind.

To conduct the first stage of this survey, our crews take to the air. Using helicopters, our staff fly over the forest and look for the telltale red needles that indicate a tree dying from mountain pine beetle damage. Staff on the ground follow up, combing the areas around these dead trees for signs that beetles have invaded live, healthy ones. Continue reading

Don’t move a mussel! Bringing a boat into Alberta? Get inspected.

If you’re taking a boat across Alberta’s borders this summer, we’re asking for your help to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

These species – which include rock snot algae, zebra and quagga mussels, and Eurasian watermilfoil – have no natural predators. Once these organisms get into a water body, they are very hard to eradicate, and can cause serious damage to ecosystems and fish species, boats, and infrastructure – including power plants and irrigation canals.

These species have already infested certain water bodies as far west as Lake Winnipeg and the United States – so it’s important that we keep them from crossing our borders. Last year, we set up a voluntary inspection station and a hotline number – 1-855-336-2628 (BOAT) – and asked boaters to report anything suspicious.

Our efforts have paid off: a call to the hotline in May helped us stop a boat infested with quagga mussels before it crossed the border. Although this is good news, it’s also a reminder of our vulnerability.

This summer, we’ll have four inspection stations on major highways coming into Alberta. These stations are set up at commercial vehicle weigh stations outside of Coutts and Crowsnest Pass in the south and Dunmore and Vermilion along in the east. These inspections will help protect boats as well as our native ecosystems.

This map shows our 2014 boat inspection stations.

Each of our 2014 inspection stations is marked with a blue pin on this map.

Here are the steps we need all boaters to take to help us stop aquatic hitchhikers: 

  1. Taking your boat out of the province? Call the hotline number to schedule a free inspection.
  2. Know how to recognize these species – check out the gallery (above) and read more about them here.
  3. Clean, Drain, and Dry your boat every time it comes out of the water! Here are the steps you need to follow.
  4. Report it. If you find anything suspicious while cleaning your boat, call 1-855-336-2628 (BOAT).
We look forward to seeing you - and your boat - this summer!

We look forward to seeing you – and your boat – this summer!

Mountain pine beetle mortality: it’s cold outside – but is it cold enough?

Photo_MPB_beetle_under_bark_sm2

Mountain pine beetles are vulnerable to the cold – but not as vulnerable as other insects, thanks to a special adaptation.

When it comes to winter weather, the equation is simple for most Albertans: the hotter, the better – and the past few weeks have certainly been hotter than most. Unfortunately, all good things must end, and in most parts of the province, our unseasonably warm weather has been replaced by the usual deep-freeze…at least for now.

But the cold (like many unpleasant things) has fringe benefits. Conditions are great for skiing, and there’s no longer a (long) line for the 7-11 Slurpee machine. And if you’ve lived in Alberta for long enough, you might have heard another one: cold weather, while bad for us, is even worse for the scourge of our forests: the mountain pine beetle.

Insects aren’t known for being able to thrive in sub-zero temperatures, so it might make sense that the colder it gets, the worse it will be on the beetle. But the truth is a little more complicated than that.

 The curious case of the antifreeze beetle

Most insects die in the cold because the water in their bodies freezes – but mountain pine beetles are cunning little critters. Rather than just waiting to be wiped out by sub-zero temperatures, they protect themselves from the cold by producing their own antifreeze – a chemical called glycerol – and stock-piling it in their bodies. The glycerol in their bodies helps keep the beetles from freezing.

The beetles start producing ‘anti-freeze’ in the late fall, and reach their full tolerance to the cold by January. Once this happens, they can still be killed by cold temperatures, but things have got to get really frosty – with sustained temperatures of -40 C or lower for at least two full days.

It’s much easier for cold weather to impact beetles when it happens in one of two specific ways:

1. When we get unseasonably cold weather early, before the beetles have had a chance to produce glycerol for the winter – in November, or even before that.

2. When there are extreme fluctuations in winter temperatures – we go from cold to unseasonably warm (like the past two weeks) back to below freezing. Once it gets warmer again, glycerol deposits start to break down and beetles start to lose their cold tolerance. When the mercury drops again, they’re more vulnerable to cold.

(It’s worth noting that this only applies to ambient temperatures – that is, how cold it is without taking wind chill into account. Unfortunately, wind chill doesn’t make the trees the beetles are in any colder.)

 So – what does this mean for Alberta’s fight with the mountain pine beetle?

We’re still working to better understand exactly how changes in temperature can affect mountain pine beetle survival. That’s why we’re supporting research by Dr. Kathy Bleiker over at the Canadian Forest Service’s Pacific Forestry Centre.

The goal of this research is to tell us more about how cold severity, duration, and fluctuation impact the mountain pine beetle, how it becomes cold-tolerant, and how it loses that tolerance. The research will use special environmental chambers to expose eggs, larvae, pupae, and adult beetles to different conditions. Hopefully, what we learn about the beetle through this research will allow us to better plan our next plan of attack.

Want more info about the mountain pine beetle, why it’s bad, and how we’re fighting infestations? Head to http://www.mpb.alberta.ca. And in the meantime, as we swing back into colder weather, just remember: if you’re hating it, mountain pine beetles are hating it more.

Understanding how beetles adapt to the cold helps us make sure our plan of attack is as proactive as possible. (Say that 10 times fast.)

Understanding how beetles adapt to the cold helps us make sure our plan of attack is as proactive as possible. (Say that 10 times fast.)

Stop aquatic hitchhikers from entering Alberta

If you bring a boat from another province or state into Alberta, make sure to clean it, drain it, and dry it first to help keep aquatic invasive species out of our waterbodies.

Non-native aquatic invasive species, like rock snot algae, zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil, have no natural predators – so they can spread very quickly.

Once introduced to a waterbody, these species are virtually impossible to eradicate. They can transform and damage entire ecosystems, impact native species, and threaten Alberta’s biodiversity. They can also damage your boat and equipment, and clog water-operated infrastructure like power plants, water intakes and irrigation canals.

Photo of a boat propeller covered with plant growth

Invasive species can quickly overrun boat propellers – and any other mechanical equipment in the water.

If you own or use a boat, you are on the frontlines of the fight to keep invasive species out of Alberta. Everyone who enjoys our lakes and rivers need to do their part to keep our aquatic ecosystems safe.

Know how to spot aquatic invasive species:

Rock Snot Algae

  • gooey algae that attaches itself to rocks, plans and other submerged surfaces
  • grows rapidly, covering stream beds and attracting aquatic insects to its sticky surface
  • reduces fish habitat quality and food availability

Zebra and quagga mussels

  • small clam-like, freshwater species takes over hard and soft surfaces like beaches, boat propellers, docks and irrigation pipes
  • reproduces rapidly causing significant ecological damage – one female mussel can produce 1 million eggs every year
  • destroys fish and wildlife habitats by removing plankton which increases toxic algal blooms and vegetation growth and affects fish spawning areas
Photo of a mussel

This quagga mussel was removed from a boat entering Alberta waters.

Eurasian water milfoil

  • Submerged, rooted plant with long narrow leaves and feathery look
  • Spreads quickly forming a large floating mat that prevents light from reaching the water, fish and plants beneath it
  • Alters water chemistry, damages habitat, and creates breeding ground for mosquitoes
  • Clogs irrigation pipes and gets caught in boat propellers and equipment

Stop the spread:

Aquatic invasive species can live up to 30 days outside of water. Inspect your boat, trailer, and equipment after each use and take these steps to properly clean, drain, and dry your boat.

Clean

  • Remove all plants, animals and mud at the access area or dock.
  • At home, soak your gear in a two per cent bleach solution for one minute (20 ml of bleach per litre of water).
  • Rinse, scrub or pressure-wash your boat away from storm drains, ditches or waterways.

Drain

  • Drain all water from bait buckets, coolers, livewells, bilges, ballasts, transom motors and internal compartments on land before leaving the waterbody.
  • Never release live bait into a waterbody or transfer aquatic plants or animals from waterbody to another.
  • Drain paddleboats by inverting or tilting the watercraft, opening compartments, and removing seats if necessary.

Dry

  • Dry all gear completely between trips and allow the wet areas of your boat to air dry.
  • Leave compartments open and sponge out standing water.

For more information or to report something suspicious on your boat or equipment, call 1-855-336-2628 (BOAT).

Photo of a man demonstrating how to properly clean a boat

Always properly clean, drain, and dry your boat to protect it – and Alberta’s ecosystems – from invasive species.

Crews survey pine beetle winter survival

 

Alberta takes a two-pronged approach in the fight against the mountain pine beetle.

The first is slowing further spread into the eastern slopes and boreal forest by removing infested trees, which you can read about in a previous blog post.

The second is surveying where beetles are and how well their offspring survive each winter.

Photo of ESRD staff drilling a core sample in a tree

Forest health officer, Dale Thomas drills a core sample from an infested tree

Every June, survey crews visit nearly 300 sites across the province to take core samples from infested trees.

This tells us the proportion of dead versus live beetle larvae and if their populations have the potential to increase spread to other trees.

The findings, combined with summer aerial and ground surveys to locate newly-infested trees, help us determine where we need to focus our control efforts to manage spread of beetle attacks.

Widespread infestations can threaten social, economic, and environmental values – including watershed health, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities, community sustainability, and the province’s forest industry.

We are committed to protecting our resources. This past year, $40 million was spent to support detection, survey, control, prevention and rehabilitation programs, including $10 million towards reforestation.

Strong action at this time is our most effective tool to control the spread of pine beetles in our forests.

2013 mortality survey results will be posted online in July.

For more information on Alberta’s actions, and to see survey results from previous years, visit www.mpb.alberta.ca.

Alberta vs. Mountain Pine Beetle

Beetle found beneath tree bark

Beetle found beneath tree bark

Alberta’s battle against the ravaging effects of the mountain pine beetle continues.

Despite its tiny size – less than 7.5mm – the mountain pine beetle is the most damaging pine tree pest in North America. In only a few short months, the foliage of an infested tree will change colour from green to yellow, followed by bright red, brown and eventually grey, indicating tree death. This can have a devastating affect on our economy, forests and ecosystems.

Photo of a control crew member removing a mountain pine beetle infested tree

Identified trees are cut down

This winter, mountain pine beetle control crews roamed some of the most vulnerable forests near Grande Prairie, Hinton, and Slave Lake to remove individual infested trees. After cutting them down, they’re burned or mulched to kill the beetles living under the bark. This ensures larvae cannot develop and fly on to infest other trees in the summer.

Removing one infested tree can prevent as many as five more from being attacked.  So far, more than 90,000 infested trees have been removed this year.

Six million hectares of Alberta’s pine forests are at risk of infestation. Single-tree removals are one part of Alberta’s strategy to prevent beetles from spreading eastward into the boreal forest and further into the foothills.

Photo of crews burning infested logs

Logs are burned to ensure beetles and larvae do not survive

Other strategies include working with the forestry industry to harvest stands of at-risk and infested pine trees, and the long-term replacement of over-mature pine stands with younger forests.

Later this spring, we’ll switch our focus to survey how well the developing beetle larvae survived the winter and how many healthy pine trees have been infested. These overwintering survival surveys will help determine our strategies for battling the mountain pine beetle again next year.

Learn more about Alberta’s action against the mountain pine beetle and actions you can do to prevent the spread.

View our gallery for more photos.

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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.