2007-09-28

Industry facing red

Pine trees have been turning red all over the province at an increasing rate; in less than four years the estimated affected area has grown from 4.2 million to 13 million hectares, and the Shuswap is not exempt from the beetle attack. The forests around the Shuswap are part of what’s called a mixed wet belt, consisting of cedar, hemlock, balsam fir and spruce trees, but there is pine in there too. In this past year alone, stands of trees visible to Shuswap residents have been turning from green to red.

“It’s almost like someone has thrown a bucket of red paint on the forest,” says Murray Wilson of Tolko Industries Ltd., a Canadian company which holds the largest portion of harvesting licences within the North Okanagan/Shuswap.

2007-09-27

Researcher creates concrete with pine beetle wood

A student researcher at the University of Northern B.C. in Prince George has come up with a possible use for the billions of trees killed by the mountain pine beetle.

Sorin Pasca, a master's degree student in natural resources and environmental studies, found that wood attacked by the mountain pine beetle works as "an excellent ingredient for producing concrete," made by mixing cement with water and aggregate.

2007-09-26

A solid plan for dead wood

Graduate student Sorin Pasca thinks he has a concrete solution to the problem of what to do with millions of lodgepole pine trees killed by the mountain pine beetle epidemic.

Mr. Pasca, who completed his master's degree in forestry at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George in April, spent 2½ years mixing different ratios of wood chips from the infected trees with cement to create a new type of concrete that can be cut with regular woodworking tools, yet is stronger and more attractive than drywall.

2007-09-25

Pine Beetle, Mr. Opportunity?

For a workshop on an epidemic that threatens to wipe out the majority of B.C.'s mature pines, many of the speakers at Monday's Union of BC Municipalities Pine Beetle Conference were putting on their most optimistic faces. There were two glasses half full, one silver lining and an adage about wind and sailboats to go along with the talk of adjustment and opportunities.

But following on the heels of last week's provincial report that suggested the infestation that currently affects 13 million hectares of forests could kill close to 80 per cent of the Interior's pines in the next few years, another picture sometimes emerged. By day's end, the pine beetle had been blamed for bringing on everything from natural disasters to cultural genocide.

Small town wants to clear deadwood

The thick pine forests that once surrounded the northern resource town of Bear Lake are now rust brown and ready to burn.

But people there say provincial forest policies are preventing the community from saving themselves from fire.

There's no mechanism for the province's B.C. Timber Sales agency to let the community log the timber without charging stumpage. Without the stumpage break, the timber is too costly to harvest, said Terry Burgess, who represents the community on the Fraser-Fort George Regional District board.

Pine beetle epidemic could spark fires, floods

The kinds of floods that triggered mudslides and threatened northern communities this past spring could become much more frequent as a result of British Columbia's unprecedented mountain pine beetle epidemic, community leaders were told yesterday.

And if floods weren't enough to worry about, cities and towns in beetle-hit areas also face a fire threat from beetle-killed timber that, if left standing, could quickly turn into an inferno.

"What we've seen over the last few years is that transition from the ground fire up into the crown seems to be moving pretty quickly," Chris Duffy, superintendent of fuel management with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, said in describing fires in forests killed by the pine beetle.

The fires behave "almost like a large grassfire," Mr. Duffy added, resulting in less time to evacuate residents or move in firefighting crews and equipment.

Mr. Duffy spoke at a panel on community safety at a pine beetle conference held as part of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities Convention in Vancouver this week.

He urged community leaders to develop fire-management and "fuel control" plans, saying such measures can make control measures more effective.

On the flood side of the equation, the pine beetle outbreak can affect water and snow levels in several ways, said Jim Whyte, director of operations for the Provincial Emergency Program.

Dead trees don't hold as much snow in their branches, resulting in up to 30 per cent more snow left on the ground to melt.

More sun can make its way to the ground through bare trees than through needle-covered limbs, so snow melts earlier and faster.

Faster water flows can erode riverbanks, compounding the problem.

Studies of small watersheds suggest beetle outbreaks could lead to water flows that were typically seen once every 50 years coming around every five years - resulting in significantly higher costs for disaster response and flood control, Mr. Whyte said.

"It's going to mean additional costs for government, no question," he said after his presentation. "You can't have those kinds of flood frequencies without it costing you more money."

It's not definitively known what impact the pine beetle outbreak would have on big watersheds such as the Upper Fraser, Mr. Whyte said, adding that efforts are under way to predict changes in water and snow levels that could result from huge areas of dead and dying trees.

But for an indication, consider what happened this past spring, when the Nechako and Fraser Rivers both had extremely heavy snow packs, he said.

The Nechako watershed has suffered tremendous tree loss from the pine beetle, whereas the Upper Fraser watershed has not been heavily affected, Mr. Whyte said.

In similar weather conditions, Fraser River levels hit one-in-20-year highs, whereas the Nechako River recorded eight consecutive weeks of one-in-50-year levels, Mr. Whyte said - conditions that would have been much worse had it not been for flood-control measures taken on the Nechako system.

Not all of the differences in the two river systems can be chalked up to the pine beetle outbreak, he said, but a "substantial" amount of the difference can be attributed to beetle-influenced runoff in the Nechako region. Such changes are likely to be long-standing.

"These are things that are going to endure for 30 to 60 years," Mr. Whyte said. "It's going to be a long time before forest cover is restored in these watersheds."

He said the provincial and federal governments should work together on dike programs.

During his speech, he also urged community leaders to take flood risks into account when planning and building new developments.

The pine beetle conference featured speakers from communities, aboriginal and government agencies. The UBCM convention continues this week.

Natural resources minister vows to stop mountain pine beetle

The voracious mountain pine beetle is munching its way over the Rockies into Alberta.

And federal Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn said yesterday his priority is to block its eastward shift.

Fire crews in Alberta began a controlled burn yesterday over 7,900 hectares in and around Banff National Park.

The plan is to build a firewall to keep the beetles out of Alberta's jack pine, where two million hectares are at risk.

The beetle has already devoured 40 per cent of B.C.'s pine forests.

UBCM talks pine beetle funding action plan

A question and answer period with Federal Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn at the Union of BC Municipalities Convention has revealed there may be some oversight in the time given to communities to apply for pine beetle monies.

It was Vanderhoof Mayor Len Fox who raised the problem. His community received terms of reference for the latest grant September 7th with a deadline for submissions just six weeks later.

2007-09-24

Forestry fete this week

The rising Canadian dollar, the mountain pine beetle and a slumping U-S housing market. Those are among the challenges BC's Forest Minister is highlighting as National Forest Week kicks off.

Rich Coleman says at around 14-billion dollars per year, forestry accounts for about 40-percent of the Province's exports and directly employs about 80-thousand British Columbians.

2007-09-23

Government studies timber supply

Updated analysis and the latest information on B.C.’s mountain pine beetle infestation is provided in a new timber-supply report.

“The timber supply picture has changed as the infestation has grown in size and complexity,” said Forests and Range Minister Rich Coleman.

Pine beetle heads to UBCM

Kamloops will make yet another attempt to persuade Ottawa to help private landowners remove beetle-kill wood from their properties.

The city has sponsored a resolution at this year’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention to “urge the prime minister to declare the pine-beetle epidemic a natural disaster.”

2007-09-21

B.C. lumber harvest boom could hit real estate values

The accelerated harvest of pine beetle-infested wood is helping fuel a boom and is raising real estate prices in the B.C. Interior, but a bust is looming unless something is done now, a new report says.

The report by the Real Estate Investment Network suggests that real estate values will be most negatively affected in Quesnel, Williams Lake and Prince George.

Beetle bill may run into billions

Interior communities ravaged by the mountain pine beetle face a crisis similar to the collapse of the cod fishery in Eastern Canada.

Sharon Hartwell, the mayor of Telkwa, figures the beetle bill may run into the billions.

Mountain pine beetle replanting plan to take 1,300 years

British Columbia's plan to replant forests killed by a severe mountain pine beetle infestation could take more than a thousand years to complete, according to recently-released figures.

The "Forests For Tomorrow" program replants about 10,000 hectares a year. At that rate, it would take 1,300 years to replace the 13 million hectares of pine decimated by the infestation.

Within the next eight years, the mountain pine beetle could kill more than three-quarters of B.C.'s marketable pine forests, almost a quarter of the province's entire volume of market timber.

B.C. NDP Forest Critic Bob Simpson says lumber companies are replanting the pine they log, but the government hasn't been doing its share on crown land.

"We are planting one tree for every two trees harvested," Simpson said. "That shows you how bad it is getting. British Columbians should be very concerned."

Tree planting companies say they're also worried.

John Betts of the Western Silvicultural Contractors Association said his members expected to be planting up a storm, but the work just isn't there.

"We have a shortage of work," Betts said. "Where is the big mountain pine beetle reforestation program? It hasn't really materialized yet."

B.C.'s chief forester Jim Snetsinger agreed the trees are not being replaced, but said the government is still fighting a major infestation and is doing the best it can.

"We're certainly not replacing every tree that's being killed," Snetsinger said. "I don't know how you could go out and immediately plant 13 million hectares of land."

Huge drop in timber supply predicted

The latest timber supply analysis that models the impacts of the pine beetle epidemic released by the Ministry of Forests suggests that the mid-term timber supply could drop to 20.5 to 25.1 million cubic metres in the B.C. Interior.

That's a 33 to 45 per cent drop from the original timber supply of 37.6 million cubic metres before the allowable annual cut was increased to control and salvage mountain pine beetle-killed timber.

Alberta plans firewall to halt pine beetles

While Alberta prepares to torch a large swath of forest including part of Banff National Park in the coming week to fend off an invasion by the mountain pine beetle, British Columbia is left to hope a new generation of trees will take off under the canopy of its vast dead woods.

Responding to a new report this week that shows the tiny pine beetle has wiped out 40 per cent of B.C.'s current stock of pine trees – a total of 12 per cent of all of B.C.'s saleable timber – B.C.'s Forest Minister said Tuesday that the devastation does have a silver lining: There's more water for surviving trees to grow quickly.

Pine beetle moves south in B.C.

The mountain pine beetle will have killed 40 per cent of British Columbia's pine forest by the end of the year, most of it in the central Interior, and is moving into the southern half of the province, according to a Ministry of Forests report released Monday.

The timber supply report shows that 530 million cubic metres of pine, covering 130,000 sq. km of forestlands, are either red, meaning they are under attack and dying, or dead.

How Long Will The Beetle Wood Last?

The Provincial Forest Ministry says when the Pine beetle epidemic reaches its peak in 2015; 1 billion cubic meters will be infested in the province of British Columbia up from 530 million cubic meters in 2007.

The report says the hardest hit area of the province is the Vanderhoof, Burns Lake, Quesnel, 100 Mile House, Williams Lake, south to Clinton and west to the Coastal Mountains of the province where between 41 and 57% of the pine will be destroyed.

Western Canadian pine beetle infestation spreads

Voracious beetles that have ravaged more than 9 million hectares (35,000 square miles) of British Columbia's forests have wiped out about 40 percent of the infested region's marketable pine trees, according to a report released on Monday.

The pine beetle infestation has spread unabated for eight years and unless weather conditions change to keep the tiny bugs in check, the amount of trees killed by 2015 in Canada's largest lumber exporting province will likely reach about 1 billion cubic meters (35.3 billion cubic feet), according to a provincial analysis.

2007-09-18

Massive kill from pine beetle predicted for B.C.

The mountain pine beetle is projected to kill more than three-quarters of B.C.'s marketable pine forests within the next eight years, a report released Monday by the province's Ministry of Forests says.

The report says if the pine beetle kill continues at its current rate, it will kill the equivalent of almost 25 per cent of the province's entire volume of market timber.

B.C.'s forest industry is worth more than $4-billion to the economy.

“If the infestation continues to behave as it has over the past eight years, it is projected that 78 per cent of the pine volume or 23 per cent of the total volume on the provincial timber harvesting land base will killed by 2015,” the report said.

The 2007 report, a government update on the devastating mountain pine beetle infestation, studied the insect's impact on 20 pine-harvesting areas in the province. The areas spread from Fort St. James in the north-central part of the province to the Robson Valley in the east.

The 20 areas comprise 87 per cent of the marketable pine timber in British Columbia. So far, the mountain pine beetle has killed 530 million cubic metres of pine trees, the report said.

“This represents 40 per cent of the merchantable pine volume, and 12 per cent of the total provincial marketable volume, on the timber harvesting land base,” the report said.

British Columbia's total timber-harvesting land base is 4.6 billion cubic metres. The report said the mountain pine beetle epidemic will kill more than one billion cubic metres of pine by 2015.

Forests Minister Rich Coleman said Monday that the timber supply picture has changed as the pine beetle infestation has grown in size and complexity. He said the report maps out potential timber supply scenarios and provides new information for planning sustainable forests and communities for the future.

But the report concludes that the many impacts of the infestation remain difficult to measure and predict.

“There is uncertainty about how the infestations will proceed, how much mortality will be experienced in the younger stands, how much of the harvest will be directed to the stands with significant beetle kill and the length of time dead pine can be used for saw logs or other products,” the report said.

The report said the pine beetle kill reached its peak in the summer of 2005, destroying 139 million cubic metres of trees. But the rate of pine-beetle kill should start to subside in 2009.

By 2009, the pine beetle will kill five million cubic metres annually, the report said, predicting that B.C.'s pine forest stands will recover once the infestation ends.

Donna Barnett, the chairwoman of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition, said the report will help guide discussions and decisions on the environmental, social and economic issues surrounding the pine beetle.

Beetle to kill 78 per cent of B.C.'s pine forest by 2015: report

The mountain pine beetle is projected to kill more than three-quarters of B.C.'s marketable pine forests within the next eight years, says a report released Monday by the province's Ministry of Forests.

The report says if the pine beetle infestation continues at its current rate, it will kill the equivalent of almost 25 per cent of the province's entire volume of market timber.

B.C.'s forest industry is worth more than $4 billion to the economy.

"If the infestation continues to behave as it has over the past eight years, it is projected that 78 per cent of the pine volume or 23 per cent of the total volume on the provincial timber harvesting land base will be killed by 2015," says the report.

The 2007 government update on the devastating mountain pine beetle infestation studied the beetle's impact on 20 pine harvesting areas in the province. The areas spread from Fort St. James in the north-central part of the province to the Robson Valley in the east.

The 20 areas comprise 87 per cent of the marketable pine timber in British Columbia. So far, the mountain pine beetle has killed 530 million cubic metres of pine trees, says the report.

"This represents 40 per cent of the merchantable pine volume, and 12 per cent of the total provincial marketable volume, on the timber harvesting land base," according to the report.

British Columbia's total timber harvesting land base is 4.6 billion cubic metres. The report says the mountain pine beetle epidemic will kill more than one billion cubic metres of pine by 2015.

Forests Minister Rich Coleman said Monday the timber supply picture has changed as the pine beetle infestation has grown in size and complexity. He said the report maps out potential timber supply scenarios and provides new information for planning sustainable forests and communities for the future.

But the report concludes the many impacts of the infestation remain difficult to measure and predict.

"There is uncertainty about how the infestations will proceed, how much mortality will be experienced in the younger stands, how much of the harvest will be directed to the stands with significant beetle kill and the length of time dead pine can be used for saw logs or other products," says the report.

The pine beetle kill reached its peak in the summer of 2005, killing 139 million cubic metres of trees. But the rate of pine beetle kill should start to subside in 2009.

By 2009, the pine beetle will kill five million cubic metres annually, says the report, but B.C.'s pine forest stands will recover once the infestation ends.

Donna Barnett, the chairwoman of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition, said the report will help guide discussions and decisions on the environmental, social and economic issues surrounding the pine beetle.

2007-09-12

Fanning the flames for survival

Jasper National Park staff are hoping Mother Nature gives them enough time to reshape their forests, before a massive invasion of mountain pine beetles devastates their trees.

The beetles have cut a wide swath through woodland B.C. in the past decade, destroying about 80 per cent of susceptible forest, including millions of lodgepole pine trees, their Number One target.

Biopower generation from mountain pine infested wood in Canada: An economical opportunity for greenhouse gas mitigation

Biomass is considered carbon neutral, and displacement of fossil fuel-based power by biomass-based power is one means to mitigate greenhouse gases. Large forest areas in British Columbia (BC), Canada, are infested by the mountain pine beetle (MPB). Dead wood from the infestation is expected to vastly exceed the ability of the pulp and lumber industry to utilize it; current estimates are that 200–600 million m3 of wood will remain unharvested over the next 20 years. Regions where the damaged wood is not harvested will experience loss of jobs in the forestry sector, increased risk of forest fire hazard, carbon emissions from burned or decaying wood, and uncertainty about timing of replanting since this usually occurs at harvest. This paper reports the results of a detailed preliminary techno-economic analysis of producing power from MPB killed wood. Power plant size and location are critical factors affecting overall power cost. Overall cost of power rises steeply at sizes below 300 MW net power output. By locating the power plant in an area of high infestation, transportation distances can be minimized. A 300 MW power plant would consume 64 million m3 of wood over a 20-year lifetime, and hence is a significant sink for otherwise unharvestable wood. Cost estimates are based on harvesting of whole dead trees with roadside chipping and transport to a central power plant located in either the Nazko or Quesnel regions of BC. A circulating fluidized bed boiler with a conventional steam cycle is a currently available technology demonstrated at 240 MW in Finland. The estimated power cost is $68 to $74 per MWh, which is competitive with other “green power” values in BC. Given recent values of export power in the Pacific Northwest, a 300 MW MPB power plant is viable with a carbon credit below $15 per tons of CO2.

2007-09-06

Alberta plotting battle of the beetle

As a tiny species, an individual could sit rather squarely on the tip of your pinky finger, yet they are responsible for devastating seven million hectares of trees in British Columbia - and they're working their way east.

While a controlled burn scheduled for earlier this summer to eradicate mountain pine beetle in the Mount Nestor area did not go ahead because of unsuitable weather, a number of officials from provincial, federal and municipal agencies were near the site last week to speak about the beetle and demonstrate its steady march into Alberta.

2007-09-01

The pine beetle's deadly march

At night, you can hear them moving in the trees.

They've swept through parks and golf courses and ranchland and caught thermal currents to fly on the jet stream. They've colonized an area 1,200 kilometres long and 575 kilometres wide, nearly the size of Sweden. They're about the same size as a grain of rice but can kill a tree 10 storeys high.

And perhaps scariest of all, they're stealthy. One day, a tree looks fine. The next, it's been hit by nature's version of a drive-by shooting, left with tiny drifts of sawdust at its base or looking as though it's been pelted by popcorn because “pitch tubes” – blobs of sap that are the tree's natural defence – have sprung up on its bark.

From a helicopter flying west of Williams Lake, B.C., over the majestic Chilcotin Plateau and seemingly endless waves of dead, red trees, the mountain pine beetle appears nothing less than invincible.

In fact, it's not: the beetle remains vulnerable to fire, freezing temperatures and predatory birds. It can also be killed by cutting down infested trees. But in British Columbia at least, it has proved virtually unstoppable.

“I've been here all my life, and it makes me a little bit sick to my stomach to see it,” says Lee Todd, a logging contractor and helicopter pilot who works this region, six hours by road north of Vancouver.

“Our beautiful green forest is gone. It's just gone.

“It will come back. But the question is, how do we stop this from happening again?”

Like many people in the province, Mr. Todd is grappling with the scope and implication of B.C.'s unprecedented pine beetle epidemic. Stealthier than a flood or forest fire, the infestation is laying waste to vast stretches of trees and threatens the livelihood of thousands of workers, scores of communities and some of the province's biggest companies.

So far, the financial damage has ranged from thousands of dollars paid by residents in Kamloops, Prince George and other interior cities to remove dead or dying trees from their back yards, to millions spent by forestry powerhouses to process beetle-killed wood.

But everyone in the Interior seems to know the worst lies ahead. According to industry estimates, the attack has put at risk some $43-billion worth of lumber products – or nearly six times the worth of last year's softwood lumber exports to the United States – and $10.2-billion worth of stumpage fees.

By 2013, 80 per cent of B.C.'s lodgepole pine forest is expected to be dead. (The insects prefer older lodgepole pine, a species that makes up over half the Interior's annual timber harvest and defines the very look and smell of the forests that sit between the Rockies and Coast Mountains.) And now, the crisis is reaching well beyond B.C.

In Alberta, forest officials are planning to set alight large tracts of forest this fall to kill host trees and, it's hoped, stop the beetle's eastward march. Researchers have warned that the beetle's next stop could be the northern boreal forest, with outbreaks potentially extending as far as Newfoundland and Labrador. Traditionally, the Rocky Mountains and cold winters helped have kept the beetle from heading east and tackling other species such as jack, Scots and ponderosa pine. But it's feared the kind of sustained, frigid weather required to make a significant dent in epidemic beetle populations is no longer a certainty.

If Alberta is battling the beetle, in B.C., the focus has shifted to a massive salvage operation aimed at getting beetle-killed wood out of the bush before it becomes too dry or split to turn into lumber.

In the short term, that's creating a harvesting bonanza. But it won't last. There will be a gap between the current logging rush and the time when the next generation of forests is mature enough to harvest. The loss of future timber supply presents a “very significant challenge” to affected communities and the province as a whole, B.C. says in its Mountain Pine Beetle Action Plan, noting that some communities could see their income levels plummet by 25 per cent.

Other estimates have pegged the potential cost of decreased timber supply to the B.C. economy at $2-billion a year.

“There is no doubt this will be one of the biggest crises to hit resource-based communities,” says Scott Nelson, mayor of Williams Lake. “This isn't just a Williams Lake issue or a Quesnel issue or a provincial issue. This bark beetle is now in Alberta. Two years ago, they anticipated they had 15,000 [infested] trees in Alberta. Today – we just heard from them a couple of months ago – they estimate that they have 5 million trees now infected. This is a natural disaster that is going to occur across all of Canada.”

It's not known how far the beetle will travel, but it's currently breaking new ground. A member of the bark beetle family, the mountain pine beetle has lived for thousands of years in B.C. forests, usually attacking older, weaker trees. But never before – at least not on record – has it struck so voraciously.

Several factors pushed the pine beetle into its current state of overdrive.

Warmer winters meant fewer stretches of -30 C weather, the kind that curtailed previous outbreaks. Recent droughts left trees more vulnerable to attack. And decades of successful fire-fighting – much of it undertaken to protect stands of commercial lumber now threatened by the beetle – left forests overstocked with the big, older trees.

During this decade, the infestation has swept from valley floors to hillsides and beyond. Beetle populations have spiralled. During an aerial survey this past July, provincial bark beetle co-ordinator Rod DeBoice rode in a helicopter that was forced to land because the pilot couldn't see through the mess of beetles splattering against his windshield.

As the outbreak spread, the beetle ate itself out of its traditional habitat and into new ones.

“Five years ago, if somebody had said the mountain pine beetle would kill a 25-year-old stand of pine that's three inches across, you would go, ‘you're talking nonsense, that's never been seen,'“ Mr. DeBoice says.

“Well, they are doing that now, quite effectively – because it's warmed up enough, in winter they can get under that thin bark and make a go of it and not freeze.”

The insect is also heading to higher ground.

“They are killing trees up to 1,600 metres [above sea level] and that's not because the beetle has evolved into some super genetically strong insect,” Mr. DeBoice says, adding that beetle populations traditionally have tapered off at over 1,100 metres above sea level. “It's that the habitat, the climate, has warmed up enough for them and they are able to increase their range.”

The outbreak outpaced B.C.'s original projections. In recent years, the Chief Forester has announced hefty increases to annual allowable cuts, part of a strategy to wring as much value as possible from beetle-killed wood and to clear the way for new, healthier forests.

That's meant a bonanza for contractors such as Mr. Todd, whose firm hauled about 10,000 truckloads of wood last year and is on track to surpass that total this year. Started as a one-truck operation in 1991, his Eldorado Enterprises now has about 30 trucks and 100 employees, all overseen from a modest shop next to the highway where Mr. Todd lands his helicopter on the truck bed.

The beetle-killed wood that Eldorado harvests remains structurally sound, and therefore has a market value. If not suitable for lumber, the timber can be turned into wood chips, pellets or pulp.

But problems such as “checking” – cracks or splits in the wood – can reduce the amount of usable lumber in any given log. Beetles also introduce a blue fungus into the trees that stains and makes it less desirable to some customers, notably Japanese buyers who balk at the blue-stained wood.

In the short term, a lot of beetle wood is being left in the bush to be burned, as companies conclude the costs of hauling it would outweigh the proceeds from any harvest.

At one of Mr. Todd's logging operations on a recent sunny afternoon, the only pine beetles to be found were dead: innocuous-looking specks uncovered by peeling back a chunk of bark. But the damage they had caused was all around, in the form of rejected wood that hadn't made the grade for transport to town.

“We're having to leave more behind to get a product that's acceptable to a world market,” Mr. Todd says, standing in a clear-cut where nearly every tree in every stack of logs bears a tell-tale ring of blue.

“In five years, this high level of cut won't be available and it will be really, really hard on a lot of operators. Unless they find some alternative use, and I think they will.”

For the biggest lumber producers with operations in the B.C. Interior, the pine beetle is adding to a litany of woes that seem downright biblical. Vancouver-based West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. is one of the companies dealing with drastic changes to its wood supply at the same time it's contending with weak lumber prices and an ailing U.S. housing market.

“It's extremely important that we get good at this,” says Ross Johnson, operations manager at the company's Quesnel sawmill, referring to the processing of beetle-killed wood.

“And we will. There's still a resource out there that's usable and it's our job to make sure we can use it.”

One of the key tools in that battle will be technology. West Fraser's Quesnel mill, a new $120-million plant that opened in January, is outfitted with equipment that can help efficiently process beetle-killed wood by, for example, using X-ray technology to scan for checks and position the log so that the least possible amount of wood is trimmed off as scrap.

The mill is handling shorter logs, of lesser quality, than it would have handled before the outbreak, Mr. Johnson says. There are more production disruptions, as a result of the beetle-killed lumber and the demands it puts on machinery and employees. And to make matters worse, beetle-killed wood kicks up a lot of dust when it's processed, something that causes Mr. Johnson, with his stickler's eye for safety, efficiency and productivity, no end of aggravation.

Still, West Fraser sees a future in this town, where a string of mills hug the river side and camera-toting visitors from a train tour stroll through a downtown where business owners appear to have turned flower-basket displays into a competitive sport.

“The industry is not going to be devastated in five or seven years,” Mr. Johnson says. “We are providing a product right now with beetle-killed wood, and we can get better.”

The company has hedged its bets, however. Last year, it bought 13 sawmills in the U.S. for $325-million U.S., saying the deal provided “geographic, fibre and product” diversification.

Federal and provincial governments are promising millions for pine-beetle related programs, with the Ottawa agreeing to provide $1-billion over 10 years.

Some of the funds are going to grassroots agencies such as the Cariboo-Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition, which has launched an ambitious program aimed at nurturing other parts of the economy, from log-home building to tourism. Other money is spent on research into the beetle and its impact, boring into topics such as how long beetle-killed trees retain economic value and the effect of fires and harvesting on the beetle's spread.

Such strategies are intensely controversial, with critics arguing that clear-cuts destroy wildlife habitat and are of little or no use in containing beetle populations. There's also the question of whether pine beetles contribute to global warming, essentially by turning what was a carbon sink – a live forest – into a carbon source.

The results of such investigations may be years off, which still leaves communities and local governments hunting for near-term solutions.

Right now, Williams Lake is booming. Two mines have re-opened and others are in development. The provincial government is hoping that mining will pick up some of the slack left by the beetle epidemic, and has announced tax breaks to encourage exploration in beetle-hit areas.

Perhaps the biggest buzz around beetle-killed wood is as a potential energy source. When B.C. unveiled its new energy plan in February, it flagged the idea of using beetle-killed wood as fuel. A follow-up call for proposals from provincial utility B.C. Hydro garnered more than 80 responses.

But Pat Corbett, owner of the Hills Health Ranch near 108 Mile House, worries that not enough money is going into research and development in areas such as reforestation, climate change and alternative products like fuel and pharmaceuticals that could be derived from beetle-killed wood. “We need an injection of research and development at an extreme level,” says Mr. Corbett.

The beetle is oblivious to the difference between backcountry or parking lot. For the insect, a pine is a pine, whether it's located at a remote fly-in fishing camp, an industrial clear-cut or a suburban backyard. That is abundantly clear in the bustling Interior city of Kamloops, where the pine beetle has attacked trees in parks, golf courses and back yards. It's easy to spot dead or dying trees here, and tree-cutting services are among the busiest outfits in town.

Long-time resident Cliff Knauff and his neighbours have even resorted to stapling scented dryer strips to pine trees in the hopes it might deter the beetles. He has his doubts as to whether it will work, but reasons that a box of fabric softener is a lot cheaper than the cost of cutting down and removing a dead tree. Besides, beetles are known to be influenced by pheromones, so perhaps there's something to it.

Just outside of Kamloops, at the Eagle Point golf course, 15,000 infested trees were cut down and hauled away last year, says manager Jade Dominichelli. The cost of removing so many trees would have been prohibitive, but the course – which is in receivership as a result of issues Mr. Dominichelli says are unrelated to the pine beetle – was able round up enough volunteer labour and equipment to help do the job.

This summer, the course looks immaculate, if a little sparse. The greens and fairways, oddly enough, have never been in better condition, Mr. Dominichelli says, perhaps because they are no longer competing with thirsty pine trees for water.

Look closely, too, and you'd see the forest lining the fairways isn't dead and that undergrowth – including new young pines – has remained unaffected by the beetle.

Long-time foresters such as Mr. DeBoice, who vividly recalls a beetle outbreak in the 1980s, likes to remind people that forestry is a long-term business, one in which crop cycles are 70 to 90 years long.

Prior to the 1960s, he points out, companies were focused on the big, old-growth forests of the coast and smaller, interior species were considered little better than weeds. That changed when companies recognized their potential value as pulp and lumber. A similar transformation could take place as industry turns its eye to using fibre for energy, he predicts.

As that wrenching shift plays out, the trees, turning red then grey as ghosts, are a stark reminder that nothing will be the same.

That includes even simple things such as campgrounds: like the one near Lac Le Jeune where Mr. Knauff goes year after year to recharge his batteries and revel in the green trees.

Now the wind blows right through.