Spruce beetle could be sign of 'new normal'

An outbreak of the spruce beetle in the Omineca region north of Prince George could be a harbinger of things to come if the conditions that brought it to the fore remain in place in the coming years, according to a University of Northern British Columbia professor.

Like its cousin, the pine beetle, deep cold is one of the insect's biggest enemies, so the recent series of "almost Okanagan-like" winters in this region has done little if anything to halt the bug's progress, Dezene Huber, a professor in UNBC's ecosystem science program told The Citizen.

Unlike its cousin, the spruce beetle prefers fallen trees and thanks to some major blowdowns, probably brought on by the more unpredictable and severe weather that comes with climate change, they've been getting an abundance of those, Huber also noted.


Pine beetle infestation triples in Jasper park

The mountain pine beetle continues to attack pine trees at an exponential rate in Jasper National Park and has the potential to overrun the park’s forests within the next few years.

According to Parks Canada, just over 21,500 hectares of the park’s pine forests have now been colonized by the beetle, more than three times the amount mapped in 2014. A year earlier, the agency mapped 122 hectares.

“Controlling the mountain pine beetle is not a workable solution,” said Salman Rasheed, Jasper’s resource conservation manager, during Jasper National Park’s annual forum, March 16.


Spruce beetle outbreak in northeast B.C. has potential to spread

Stressed by drought and already severely damaged by a massive pine beetle infestation, British Columbia’s beleaguered forests are facing a second major insect attack.

Katherine Bleiker, a research scientist with Natural Resources Canada, said a regional spruce beetle outbreak in northeast B.C. is serious and could spread to a larger area.

“You are starting to see it everywhere,” Dr. Bleiker said of the spruce beetle, which the provincial government identified last week as a major threat to forests in the Omineca region near Prince George.


B.C. spruce beetle infestation in northern B.C. forests grows exponentially

A plan to address the latest scourge on British Columbia's forests — the spruce beetle — will include an extra $1 million in funding and the appointment of a spruce beetle project manager.

Native to B.C. and a common forest pest that usually feeds on the inner bark of fallen or weakened trees, the spruce beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis) becomes dangerous during serious and prolonged infestations, when it is capable of killing healthy trees.

The current infestation has taken over 156,000 hectares of forest in the Omineca region of northern B.C., the largest outbreak since the 1980s and a huge increase from the 7,653 hectares affected in the last infestation in 2013.


How Science Can Help to Halt The Western Bark Beetle Plague

For residents of the Rocky Mountain region of the United States and Canada, global warming is not an abstract concept. It is a reality they confront every day in the form of tens of millions of acres of pine and spruce trees that have died as a result of beetle infestations spawned by a hotter, drier climate.

Few people know as much about this forest plague as University of Montana entomologist Diana Six, who is working with colleagues to understand why the genetics of some individual trees enable them to survive even as whole forests around them are turning brown and perishing. Six says the infestations are now happening worldwide, with major outbreaks in Africa and Europe. But the worst impacts to date are in the North American West, where bark beetles are spreading quickly into new territories and attacking high-altitude tree species that were previously unaffected.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Six explains the root causes of the beetle infestations, discusses why U.S. Forest Service policies may be making the problem worse, and describes why the best hope for Western forests will come from the trees’ capacity to genetically adapt to a new climate regime. Science, she says, can help support this natural process of evolution by mapping genetic markers in trees that survive the insects, so forest managers can breed trees that are better able to cope with future beetle onslaughts. “The only way that we can help our forests in the long term is to strengthen their genetic abilities for adaptation,” says Six. “We have to consider some radical new ways of thinking.”