The pine beetle's surprising northern foray

By KATHERINE HARDING Thursday, October 19, 2006 GRANDE PRARIE, ALTA. — They blew by the millions into the dense forests surrounding this thriving northwestern Alberta community on a strong Prairie wind in July. - There were so many that a local dairy farmer thought he was hearing rain tapping on his barn's tin roof.

Instead, it was an invasion of hungry mountain pine beetles, black grain-sized insects that have already devoured billions of mature lodgepole pine trees in British Columbia's Interior forests. “We just had this massive blow-over from the Prince George area. . . .We never thought they would hit us this hard, this fast,” said Pat Wearmouth, a senior forester with Weyerhaeuser Co. Ltd. The giant forestry company is scrambling to help control the infestation, which has the potential to keep marching east through Canada's vast northern boreal forest. Behind Mr. Wearmouth is a forest full of dying Jack and lodgepole pine trees. Many of the lanky infected trees — some taller than a four-storey building — have been tied in pink caution tape that reads: “Pest mgmt. zone.” The full extent of the outbreak near Grande Prairie, a small city about 455 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, won't be known until next year, when sick green trees start turning a rusty red colour — a sure sign they have fallen victim to mountain pine beetles. Soon after that, the trees turn grey. While the infestation has been slowly spreading across the Rocky Mountains into Alberta since 2002, the recent outbreak in Grande Prairie and surrounding areas profoundly worries the forestry industry and provincial government because the beetle is heading farther north than it was expected to go. There is also evidence that the beetle, which once favoured mature lodgepole pine, is now attacking the mature Jack pine of the boreal forests, which reach from B.C. to Labrador. “There's a chance that Alberta could look like B.C., and so could a lot of Northern Canada where there is pine,” Mr. Wearmouth said. The pest works quickly. In 1999, almost 165,000 hectares of the B.C. Interior's pine forest was infected. By 2005, the number jumped to 8.7 million hectares.

is kept awake at night over this growing crisis. historically. Alberta is the battleground. plan to identify as many infected trees as possible this winter and harvest them before they turn red. Several forestry companies in Alberta. http://www. there were just 19.And the number of infected trees in Alberta continues to grow. and next year's number is expected to be much higher. the beetles have been no match for Western Canada's cold. “Mother Nature needs to give us a really good winter because I'm pretty convinced that that is the only way we are really going to get it. who are combing the forests this winter looking for sick pine trees.000. . a big. has been a forester since 1971. there are an estimated 150. bearded 58-year-old dressed in jeans and a blue-andblack bomber jacket. But warm winters and fewer cold snaps in the spring and fall have allowed them to thrive. which has been likened to a silently spreading forest fire. . such as Weyerhaeuser. He partly blames global warming and the lack of cold winters for the destruction the tiny pest has been able to inflict on Western Canadian forests in recent years. Mountain pine beetles are equipped with a built-in antifreeze system to survive harsh winters. according to some estimates. Mr. called beetle probers. At least six million hectares of Alberta pine forest are at risk of being attacked by the insects. “They have gone into places that we never thought they would go. Wearmouth. . Alberta's Minister of Sustainable Resource .on.” he said. In 2005. Each infected pine tree can produce enough beetles to infect another 10 to 12 pine trees. The province has hired about 100 surveyors. however. And this year. As of mid-October. “We are at war with the mountain pine beetle. I pray every night that Mother Nature gives us minus-30-degree weather this winter. Coutts said.” he said. which are then chopped down and burned. Even David Coutts. burly.000.trca. Alberta has spent $27-million on the problem since 2005.” Mr.

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