2008-04-28

The Beetle Factor in a Carbon Calculus

Trees have been fighting climate change for ages, using photosynthesis to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequestering it for the long term in their tissues. Most forests are considered net sinks of carbon dioxide, meaning they store more carbon than they give up.

But natural events can upset a forest’s carbon calculus. Big fires, for instance, spew plenty of CO2 into the atmosphere, and the dead trees that remain eventually decompose by microbial action, releasing more of the gas.

By killing trees by the thousands, widespread insect infestations can do the same thing. But rarely have insect blights been considered when determining a forest’s carbon balance.

Now Werner A. Kurz of Natural Resources Canada and colleagues have calculated the impact of an infestation of mountain pine beetles on pine forests in British Columbia. The effect, they report in Nature, is startling: the forests are now a large carbon source, and will remain so at least until 2020, long after the infestation peaks.

At more than 32 million acres and counting, the pine beetle blight is at least an order of magnitude larger than any previous recorded infestation by the insect. And global climate change, Dr. Kurz said, is partly responsible: winter temperatures no longer get low enough to kill off the beetle, and warmer summers allow greater reproductive success.

Dr. Kurz has been studying the carbon balance in Canada’s forests for years, and he developed a computer simulation that weighs many factors. The current work, he said, “is the first time I’m aware of that a study has been able to isolate the effect of the beetle.” The results show that in the worst years, the amount of carbon released in British Columbia forests will be roughly three-quarters of the average annual amount of carbon released, largely through fires, in all of Canada.

Dr. Kurz said the study showed how climate change, by making the infestation worse, creates positive feedback on future climate change by affecting forests that once removed a lot of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“This particular piece of real estate is not going to do that,” he said. “To the contrary, it is actually adding to the burden.”

Who Will Revive BC's Forests?

British Columbia is in a race against time to remove and replenish pine stands that have been killed by mountain pine beetle.

At stake is B.C.'s contribution to staving off global warming.

We seem to be making it worse rather than better, despite our vast forests. That is because B.C.'s dead and dying trees are already emitting more carbon dioxide than the living ones are absorbing, according to a report issued Wednesday by Natural Resources Canada.

This means our forests have turned from a net carbon sink into a net carbon source that will emit 990 megatons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by 2020.

Yet, at a time when we need it most, planting is expected to decrease next year -- by as many as 70 million seedlings -- as forestry companies curtail silviculture along with other operational expenses. That will be the lowest in two decades, and some analysts project province-wide investment in forest regeneration efforts will continue to fall far short of where it should be.

As a result, say some experts, it is time to rethink how we view the benefits we get from replanting trees in British Columbia, and the way we go about it.

2008-04-25

Pine Forests Destroyed by Beetle Takeover

Canadian forests are being hit hard by an outbreak of the mountain pine beetle. Though the beetles are small — less than 1/3 of an inch long — they are very hungry, boring through the wood of a variety of pine tree species.

The severe outbreak of the beetles in Canada is killing enough trees that ecologists are worried that forests in British Columbia could change from being a "carbon sink" — absorbing carbon dioxide emissions and sequestering them — to a carbon source — releasing stored up carbon dioxide as the trees die and decompose or burn in forest fires. Warming temperatures are allowing the beetles to spread into new territory, threatening more forests.

"The current outbreak in British Columbia, Canada, is an order of magnitude larger in area and severity than all previous recorded outbreaks," researchers write in the journal Nature. They found that one outbreak of the beetle alone released enough carbon dioxide to equal five years worth of emissions from transportation sources in Canada.

Werner Kurz, a senior research scientist at the Canadian Forest Service, talks about how a tiny beetle could have a significant impact on the carbon balance in North America.

WSCA calling for immediate action on tree planting efforts in B.C.

Members of the Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association (WSCA) are calling for immediate action to revitalize tree planting efforts in British Columbia in the wake of an alarming study by the Canadian Forest Services (CFS) pointing to beetle-killed forests in the province as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The report, released today, is the first to examine the impact on greenhouse gas emissions from the 11 million hectares (an area the size of England) of dead or dying forests killed off by the mountain pine beetle.

The report stated the beetle-killed trees, as they decay, can spew a billion tonnes of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, which is five times the amount of greenhouse gases emitted annually by the entire Canadian transportation sector.

Tiny beetle tramps over emission targets

For a little bug, the pine beetle has an enormous carbon footprint.

The pine beetle, the size of a grain of rice, has already destroyed British Columbia's forests and devastated the logging industry. Now, the insect threatens to upend the province's push to curb its greenhouse gases. At a minimum, it intensifies the uncertainty about how B.C. will slash its emissions by a third by 2020, and what the rules will be for the cap-and-trade system still being hashed out.

A pine beetle study released this week by Natural Resources Canada contains the eye-popping revelation that B.C.'s forests - far from being a weapon in the fight against carbon dioxide - have been spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere for six years. The culprit is the pine beetle, which has turned vast swaths of forest into rotting stands of punky wood.

2008-04-23

Mountain pine beetle and forest carbon feedback to climate change

The mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins, Coleoptera: Curculionidae, Scolytinae) is a native insect of the pine forests of western North America, and its populations periodically erupt into large-scale outbreaks. During outbreaks, the resulting widespread tree mortality reduces forest carbon uptake and increases future emissions from the decay of killed trees. The impacts of insects on forest carbon dynamics, however, are generally ignored in large-scale modelling analyses. The current outbreak in British Columbia, Canada, is an order of magnitude larger in area and severity than all previous recorded outbreaks. Here we estimate that the cumulative impact of the beetle outbreak in the affected region during 2000–2020 will be 270 megatonnes (Mt) carbon (or 36 g carbon m-2 yr-1 on average over 374,000 km2 of forest). This impact converted the forest from a small net carbon sink to a large net carbon source both during and immediately after the outbreak. In the worst year, the impacts resulting from the beetle outbreak in British Columbia were equivalent to approx75% of the average annual direct forest fire emissions from all of Canada during 1959–1999. The resulting reduction in net primary production was of similar magnitude to increases observed during the 1980s and 1990s as a result of global change. Climate change has contributed to the unprecedented extent and severity of this outbreak6. Insect outbreaks such as this represent an important mechanism by which climate change may undermine the ability of northern forests to take up and store atmospheric carbon, and such impacts should be accounted for in large-scale modelling analyses.

Beetle tree kill releases more carbon than fires

An infestation of beetles could convert large swathes of Canadian forests to carbon sources rather than sinks, a new study suggests.

Fuelled by warmer winter weather, mountain pine beetles have swept through the conifers of British Columbia, killing trees in an estimated 74,000 to 94,000 square kilometres of forest.

“Those are very big numbers brought on by a very small insect,” says Werner Kurz of Natural Resources Canada in Victoria, British Columbia, who led the study. The infestation has had a huge impact on the logging industry and ecology of the region, and has turned vast areas of forest from green to reddish brown.

Pine beetle turning forests into greenhouse gas gushers

The tiny mountain pine beetle has transformed British Columbia's vast pine forests into a major source of greenhouse gases, federal scientists say.

By the time the unprecedented infestation ends, the rice-sized beetles will have killed so many trees an extra billion tonnes of carbon dioxide will be wafting through the atmosphere, researchers from the Canadian Forest Service report in the journal Nature on Thursday.

That is five times the annual emissions from all the cars, trucks, trains and planes in Canada, says lead author Werner Kurz, who warns the beetle's impact goes far beyond the B.C. border.

2008-04-22

Beetle eats Ottawa climate plan: Corcoran

The mountain pine beetle, in the process of destroying (temporarily) huge tracts of British Columbia forest, will also eat into any plans Canada develops to hit carbon emissions targets. As the beetles make their way through the forest, they leave behind a legacy whose major product appears to be millions of tonnes of carbon emissions that nobody has been counting.

Nobody, in fact, has ever tried to figure out how large the carbon emission explosion will be from the beetle attacks, but a new study that's set to appear in Nature magazine should pop a few eyeballs in Ottawa. The study, led by scientists at Natural Resources Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Forests, estimates that by 2020 the pine beetle devastation will have generated 270 megatonnes of carbon.

That's a lot of carbon for Canada. As a Nature news feature obtained by FP Comment puts it, 270 megatonnes is "exactly the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that Canada is committed to reducing by 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol. And given that Canada is far off meeting that target, it may be even harder than once thought for the nation to offset its emissions through forest management."

Forest industry will face hard times

At the Council of Forestry Industry convention last Thursday, Premier Gordon Campbell did what premiers have been doing in this province dating back to the 1980s — avoid being honest about the plight of our forest industry.

NDP forestry critic Bob Simpson said the premier had some “nice words” to say about his government’s commitment to sustain B.C.’s forest industry, saying the funding allocations for reforestation and to promote wood products in new markets are previous announcements just being recirculated to score positive political points.

He should know, for the NDP did the same thing during their tenure in control of Victoria and the Social Credit Party before them.

The forest industry in B.C.’s Interior is living on borrowed time, with so many communities reliant on forestry as the linchpin of their local economies. The accelerated harvest punctuated by the pine beetle infestation will end, and when it does, hard time will follow.

Oil and gas exploration gets funding

The B.C. government is investing $5.7 million in geoscience projects to boost the exploration and development of oil and gas in B.C.

The funding is going to Geoscience B.C., an agency created with seed funding of $25 million from the provincial government , which has targeted most of its efforts at increasing knowledge of the province's mineral potential, particularly in regions hit by the mountain pine beetle epidemic.

2008-04-18

QUEST-WEST PARTNERSHIP PROMOTES MINERAL EXPLORATION

The Province is supporting mineral exploration work in pine beetle-affected areas of the province with $6 million for Geoscience BC’s QUEST West program, said Premier Gordon Campbell as he presented the funding to Geoscience BC at the Minerals North Conference today.

“Today we are building on the success of the QUEST project, which has resulted in 820,000 hectares of mountain pine beetle-infested forest being staked for mineral exploration,” said Campbell. “QUEST West will continue this important geoscience research, help us to discover untapped mineral potential, attract new investment and support the economic diversification of pine beetle affected communities in B.C.”

The new QUEST West funding will be used to generate new geoscience data, covering approximately 40,000 square kilometres extending from Vanderhoof-Fort St James to Terrace and including the communities of Fraser Lake, Burns Lake, Granisle, Houston, Telkwa and Smithers.

2008-04-16

Minister wants another $50M to fight pine beetle

The politician overseeing Alberta's war on the mountain pine beetle says he is asking for another $50 million this year to fight the forest-destroying pest.

"Contrary to a lot of our critics, we're making progress on that front," Ted Morton, sustainable resource development minister, said today at a forestry forum at the University of Alberta.

"We're making progress because of the large amounts of money - over $50 million last year. I've already made a request for another $50 million this year as an emergency draw on the Sustainability Fund."

2008-04-14

Biomass projects move into second phase of BC Hydro power tender process

Two biomass projects have met all phase-one requirements in BC Hydro's two-phase 2008 bio-energy call.

If approved, the two Western Biomass projects will generate an estimated 90 megawatts of electricity. Western is owned by Run of River Power Inc. (TSX-V:ROR).

The British Columbia Transmission Corp.'s feasibility study for the two projects is expected to be completed by mid-June. A short list of candidates is expected within the next two months. Long-term power purchase agreements are scheduled to be awarded by 2008's third quarter.

Biomass projects move into second phase of BC Hydro power tender process

Two biomass projects have met all phase-one requirements in BC Hydro's two-phase 2008 bio-energy call
If approved, the two Western Biomass projects will generate an estimated 90 megawatts of electricity. Western is owned by Run of River Power Inc. (TSX-V:ROR).

The British Columbia Transmission Corp.'s feasibility study for the two projects is expected to be completed by mid-June. A short list of candidates is expected within the next two months. Long-term power purchase agreements are scheduled to be awarded by 2008's third quarter.

2008-04-10

Alberta renews expensive war on pine beetle

For the second straight year, the province is declaring an emergency in its war against mountain pine beetle.

The move will allow Sustainable Resource Development to tap extra funding to tackle the infestation of Alberta's pine forests.

Department spokeswoman Joan McCracken said the amount of money needed for the beetle fight will be released in the province's budget later this month. The government has spent about $138 million since 2006 on the pest problem, which spread to Alberta from British Columbia.

2008-04-09

Mountain pine beetle infestation grows

A warm winter resulted in a threefold increase of pine beetle infestations as pine beetle crews had to remove nearly 18,000 trees this year. That’s up from 6,000 trees last year.

Pine beetle crews have been working for months in an attempt to control the spread of pine beetles in the area, however the weather did not cooperate this year.

There are still two or three regions in the provincial parks in Kananaskis Country that need to finish their pine beetle work, which Alberta Parks biologist Steve Donelon said they hope to complete during the next few months.

Biomass Projects Meet Requirements for BC Hydro's BioEnergy Phase One Request for Proposals

Run of River Power Inc. (TSXV: ROR) ("Run of River" or the "Company") is pleased to report that its wholly owned biomass development company Western Biomass, has received confirmation that its two biomass projects have met all the requirements necessary to move forward in the first phase of BC Hydro's two phased 2008 Bio-Energy call. The British Columbia Transmission Corporation indicated that Interconnection Feasibility Studies for the two projects are targeted for completion by mid June 2008. A short list of candidates is expected to be announced by BC Hydro within the next two months leading to negotiation and award of long term power purchase agreements by Q3, 2008.

The Company currently has two large scale biomass power initiatives totaling 90 MW of base load capacity under development. The 60 MW Tsilhqot'in Power project is a joint venture between Western Biomass and the Tsilhqot'in National Government and will utilize mountain pine beetle damaged timber, which has devastated over 8 million hectares of pine forests in central British Columbia, for its fibre supply.

2008-04-07

Amid dead pines, the seeds of new growth

There's a silver lining to the brown trees in the Rocky Mountains.

While almost a million acres of evergreens across the state are dying from an unparalleled outbreak of bark beetles, experts say the infestation is creating hidden benefits.

Among them are increased water runoff to streams, opportunities for new vegetation and more varied wildlife habitat.

2008-04-05

Ottawa pours more money into pine beetle fight

The federal government has added another $2-million to a program to control the spread of the forest-eating mountain pine beetle.

The tiny black bug has already destroyed millions of trees in Alberta and British Columbia, and there are now fears it could spread all the way to the East Coast if control programs fail.

Tory MP Rob Merrifield says extremely cold weather over the winter destroyed large numbers of pine beetles in Northern and Southern Alberta, but some of them survived.

2008-04-04

Feds pledge $2M to fight pine beetles in Alberta

The federal government will spend $2 million in an attempt to stem the spread of the mountain pine beetle in Alberta, MP Rob Merrifield announced Friday in Edmonton.

"Today's investment is one of the positive actions our government is taking to fight the northward and eastward spread of the mountain pine beetle," Merrifield said in a statement.

The beetles, which are as small as a grain of rice, attack mature pines, tunnelling into the trunks and spreading a blue-stained fungus. The beetles have already destroyed large parts of forests in British Columbia and are expected to have wiped out nearly 80 per cent of the province's pines by 2013.

Natural Resources Canada: Government of Canada Funding for Spread Control of Mountain Pine Beetle in Alberta

Member of Parliament Rob Merrifield (Yellowhead), today announced an additional $2 million in funding to boost spread control of the mountain pine beetle in Alberta. The announcement was made on behalf of the Honourable Gary Lunn, Minister of Natural Resources.

"Today's investment is one of the positive actions our government is taking to fight the northward and eastward spread of the mountain pine beetle," said Mr. Merrifield. "With this funding, we are helping the province of Alberta deliver their control efforts in areas that scientists have identified as top priorities."

Alberta will receive the funding to address spread control in the southern Rockies and the Lesser Slave Lake area of the province.

2008-04-03

Frigid winter hasn't finished off beetle: experts

Albertans who shivered through a frigid winter can take heart knowing that bitter cold has likely taken a big bite out of mountain pine beetle populations.

Two cold snaps in late January and late February blasted northern Alberta with temperatures believed to be deadly for significant numbers of the voracious pest.

"There is predicted to be significant mortality across the northern parts of the province where the beetle has recently invaded," said Allan Carroll, a researcher with the Canadian Forest Service and one of the country's top pine beetle experts.

2008-04-02

Burn Trees to Light Homes?

Burn wood waste to make energy. It's a great way to use all that dead beetle wood in B.C., and compared to burning coal, adds far less carbon to the global warming equation. That's what you'll hear from top politicians like Minister of Forests Rich Coleman -- so why isn't B.C. burning up the biofuels track?

A closer look at the industry in this province reveals we are exporting most of our wood fuel pellets to Europe rather than using them to produce energy here. One ambitious attempt to inject millions of bioenergy dollars and hundreds of related jobs into the Prince George area foundered with a key backer complaining about government and First Nations red tape. And all that beetle wood may not be the ideal biofuel after all, when compared to other, dwindling, sources of wood waste.

2008-04-01

Province hands out more beetle aid money

The province has awarded another $250,000 to the Cariboo-Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition to finish a plan meant to help communities in the region diversify their economies in the wake of the beetle epidemic.

The Cariboo-Chilcotin group includes communities south of Prince George including: Quesnel, Williams Lake and 100 Mile House.

The area is one of the hardest hit by the beetle epidemic, and one in which forestry jobs are expected to be lost as the timber supply drops once the epidemic has run its course. In the latest estimate, the province and the forest industry expect 76 per cent of the pine in the Interior to be killed by 2015.