Experts say pine beetle risk lower in Missoula - and infestation fixes exist

Anyone who's driven over McDonald Pass and seen the swaths of red, dead trees has to wonder: Will pine bark beetles attack Missoula, too?

Red gashes have appeared on the North Hills, in Pattee Canyon and on the hills above Frenchtown. The Interstate 90 corridor looks like an arboreal traffic light, with forests of green and red trees broken by long yellow grasslands.

But as we've always suspected, Missoula is different.

Fight looms over Fish Lake

Sport fishers can get slapped by the law for netting a single fish over the limit, yet a large Vancouver-based mining company is proposing to destroy a lake and the tens of thousands of trout that inhabit it. Resource-extraction projects like the proposed Prosperity Mine 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake are breathtaking in their scope and scale. Vancouver-based Taseko Mines says opening up this massive ore body with estimated reserves of 5.3 billion pounds of copper and 13.3 million ounces of gold will require a capital outlay of some $800 million. Over its expected 20-year life span, Prosperity would cost $4 billion to operate and would generate 6,800 man-years of employment and a multibillion-dollar windfall in corporate taxes for the federal and provincial governments.

However, the potential environmental and attendant socioeconomic impacts of Prosperity are equally breathtaking. Most controversial are Taseko's plans to turn Fish Lake—known to the Tsilhqot'in First Nations as Teztan Biny and home to an endemic population of an estimated 85,000 rainbow trout—into a giant impoundment reservoir for toxic mine-waste rock, altering the hydrology and ecosystem of the entire watershed along the way. Fish Lake happens to lie within the watershed of the Taseko River, a major salmon-bearing tributary of the Fraser River system via the Chilko and Chilcotin rivers, raising serious concern about the mine's possible downstream impacts on salmon habitat. A complicated plan to create compensating fish habitat—including an artificial lake called Prosperity—and deal with mine waste is detailed in a March 17, 2009, 3,000-page environmental-impact statement, a document that is at the centre of tandem federal and provincial environmental assessments currently under way.

The proposal is causing a familiar divide among the local populace. The City of Williams Lake and the regional economy have been hit hard by the mountain pine beetle and sagging softwood-lumber markets, and many citizens and business owners are glassy-eyed over the spending and jobs the mine would bring. Others, among them environmentalists and First Nations, fear that ecosystems will suffer long-term damage for relatively short-term gain. So the question being asked by many is this: are the dizzying economic gains of the Prosperity Mine worth the social and environmental risks?

Conservatives' Priorities – Ontario Auto Industry First, BC Forest Communities Last

The federal government is paying out $1.4 million for every job saved in the Ontario auto sector and giving the province a lion’s share of the federal Community Adjustment Fund – but it has set aside just $62.5 million for BC’s communities this year.

“BC’s Community Adjustment Fund share works out to a few dollars per out-of-work British Columbian. Despite government claims, the payment actually reflects a big decrease in the money that had been promised,” says Leonard Thomas, president of the BC First Nations Forestry Council. “Our own council’s latest request was for $20 million – the equivalent of the cost of saving 17 Ontario auto jobs – to help tens of thousands of First Nations people in the 103 communities hit by the mountain pine beetle,” Mr. Thomas said. “We were told the pine beetle is no longer a priority and were turned down.”

BC municipalities have been equally shunned. “Perhaps embarrassment over his government’s treatment of these communities explains why Prime Minister Stephen Harper has avoided the fire-ravaged BC interior this summer,” Mr. Thomas said.


Communities along Highway 5 from Valemount to Vavenby are benefiting from $61,380 to remove trees impacted by the mountain pine beetle and creating immediate employment through the Job Opportunities Program, announced Shirley Bond, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure and MLA for Prince George-Valemount, and Terry Lake, MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson on behalf of Bill Bennett, Minister of Community and Rural Development.

“This project is allowing four workers to continue using their skills in and around the communities of Valemount, Blue River, Clearwater and Vavenby,” said Bond. “The Job Opportunities Program is keeping people at work during this difficult time and supporting our local economies.”

KDC Forestry Consulting is leading the project. The workers are assessing trees affected by the mountain pine beetle and removing those standing trees that pose a potential hazard. Workers are also repairing or replacing tables and signage at recreational sites in the Headwaters Forest District.


Genome British Columbia funds pine beetle, poplar biomass projects

Genome British Columbia announced it will be the primary funder of two genomic research projects designed to increase the production of biofuels from biomass grown in British Columbia, particularly from lodgepole pines killed by the current pine beetle infestation and the production of wild poplar trees that could potentially replace them.

According to the Canadian Ministry of Forests and Range, as of 2008 the cumulative area of provincial forest affected to some degree by the pine beetle was about 14.5 million hectares (36 million acres).

The research projects will focus on efficiently converting the dead timber to ethanol, and the optimization of breeding and selection of poplars.

B.C. researches biofuel from infested pines

Two new research projects in British Columbia are focusing on the possibility of turning pine trees ruined by beetle infestations into renewable biofuels such as ethanol.

BC Bioenergy Strategy is calling for greatly increased production of renewable biofuels from biomass grown in the province, but as ethanol produced from corn, sugar and other food products raises concerns about global food prices and availability, trees are being hailed as a source of next-generation renewable fuels.

The unprecedented devastation caused by the mountain pine beetle infestation in the province has created large amounts of unmarketable lodgepole pine that has the potential to supply the biofuel industry for the next 20 years and beyond, researchers said.


World nearing ‘tipping point’ on climate change, forests minister warns

Forest fires, flooding and the mountain pine beetle epidemic are clear examples in B.C. that climate change is real and needs to be addressed by governments around the world, B.C. Forests Minister Pat Bell told an International Energy Agency conference on bioenergy Monday.

"I am not a doomsayer, I am not one who wants to say we are beyond the tipping point. But I am afraid that we are getting close to that," Bell told 200 of the world's leading experts on bioenergy attending the conference at the University of B.C.

Delegates are addressing the latest advances in biofuels.

Two Genomic Research Projects in British Columbia Tackle Issues in Emerging Forestry Biofuels Industry

Two new genomic research projects in British Columbia (Canada), largely funded by Genome British Columbia, are investigating two separate aspects of forestry biofuels in the province: how to convert efficiently the mass of dead, unmarketable lodgepole pine resulting from the mountain pine beetle infestation to fuel, and how to optimize the poplar tree as a replacement biofuel feedstock for a BC biofuel industry once the dead lodegpole pine runs out.

Genome British Columbia is a research organization that invests in and manages large-scale genomics and proteomics research projects and science and technology platforms focused on areas of strategic importance such as human health, forestry, fisheries, agriculture, bioenergy, mining, and the environment.

Genome British Columbia: Two Genomic Research Projects to Tackle Supply and Demand Issues in Emerging Forestry Biofuels Industry

In order to reduce the Province's greenhouse gas emissions, the BC Bioenergy Strategy is calling for greatly increased production of renewable biofuels such as ethanol, from biomass grown in BC.

But as ethanol produced from corn, sugar and other food products continues to raise concerns about impact on global food prices and availability, trees are being hailed as a source of next generation renewable biofuels.

In the meantime, the unprecedented devastation caused by the mountain pine beetle infestation in BC has created large amounts of unmarketable lodgepole pine that has the potential to supply the biofuel industry for the next 20 years and beyond.

Strategy Paper Proposes Genomics Research to Fight Threats to Canadian Forest Health

Leading Canadian researchers, under the auspices of the Canadian Forest Health Genomics Initiative, and jointly supported by Canada’s six regional genome centres, have authored a strategy paper describing the opportunities for and potential benefits arising from employing genomics research to better manage forest health. Genomics research and the enabling resources it creates can help address some of the major threats and challenges – including invasive and indigenous insect pests, invasive plants and climate change – now faced by the stewards of the country’s forests and associated industries.

The paper, Canadian Forest Health Genomics: Canadian Strengths Address Forestry Challenges, proposes a rationale for harnessing and directing new interdisciplinary genomics research across Canada (links to this and related background materials are appended below). Outcomes of this research would provide better understanding of and tools to help mitigate the threats facing Canada’s forests: destructive pests such as the spruce budworm, mountain pine beetle and emerald ash borer; climatic shifts; and increased global consumption of renewable resources. The perspectives captured by the strategy paper were first discussed at a national one-day workshop held on March 31, 2009 in Toronto. Participants included: academic, provincial and federal researchers; public policy and decision-makers; and industry and community groups. The workshop was organized and supported by Canada’s six regional genome centres – Genome British Columbia, Genome Alberta, Genome Prairie, Ontario Genomics Institute, Genome Quebec and Genome Atlantic – along with Natural Resources Canada, Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Ontario’s Ministry of Research and Innovation.

“With more than 400 million hectares, Canada contains 10% of the planet’s forests, and products derived from our forests account for $33.6 billion worth of exports, or more than half of our country’s trade balance,” commented Dr. Alan E. Winter, President and CEO, Genome British Columbia. “There is now widespread agreement among researchers in academia and government that genomics can play a critical role in protecting our forests and maintaining Canada’s position internationally as the largest exporter of forest products.”


Beetles, wildfire: Double threat in warming world

A veil of smoke settled over the forest in the shadow of the St. Elias Mountains, in a wilderness whose spruce trees stood tall and gray, a deathly gray even in the greenest heart of a Yukon summer.

"As far as the eye can see, it's all infested," forester Rob Legare said, looking out over the thick woods of the Alsek River valley.

Beetles and fire, twin plagues, are consuming northern forests in what scientists say is a preview of the future, in a century growing warmer, as the land grows drier, trees grow weaker and pests, abetted by milder winters, grow stronger.

Happy Creek Commences Exploration on Its Highland Valley and Cariboo Properties

Happy Creek Minerals Ltd. (TSX VENTURE: HPY) (the "Company") is pleased to announce that exploration has commenced on its Highland Valley and Cariboo properties.

Geological mapping is underway at the 100% owned Rateria and West Valley properties that are located in BC approximately 10 kilometres southeast and southwest, respectively, from Teck's Highland Valley copper concentrator, the third largest in North America. Exploration in this area has been on-going on a sporadic, fragmented and cursory basis since 1958, but success has been limited by access difficulties, extensive glacial till cover and inferior technologies. During the past two years, extensive logging activity has occurred on the Rateria and West Valley properties due to the Pine Beetle epidemic. New logging roads have uncovered several outcrops containing copper mineralization. This recent logging activity assists in the collection of new geological information that is both cost-effective and valuable for planning and focusing direction of exploration and drilling.

Happy Creek is the first to use the 3 Dimensional Induced Polarization (3D IP) geophysical surveys in the Highland Valley. On the Rateria property, this type of survey has successfully identified two new copper zones. Results from Zone 1 include 100.0 metres grading 0.29% copper, 84.0 metres of 0.30% copper, and 10.4 metres grading 1.55% copper. Several holes ended in copper mineralization. Results from Zone 2 include 177.0 metres grading 0.37% copper including 27.0 metres grading 1.05% copper, 0.02% molybdenum, 5.0 g/t (grams per tonne) silver and 0.24 g/t gold as well as 153.1 metres containing 0.24% copper, including 17.5 metres containing 1.12% copper. The intercepts from Zone 2 are two hundred metres apart and remain undefined and open in extent. Drilling is planned to follow-up on Zone 1 and 2 and test several other prospective new targets identified by the 3D IP survey.


Pine beetle may take a bite out of B.C. real estate

The destructive mountain pine beetle is hurting more than just B.C. forests, according to a new report.

The Real Estate Investment Network says the pest could have devastating effects on real estate in areas of British Columbia that depend on forestry for their livelihood, some of which have already suffered mill shutdowns and an increased unemployment rate.

B.C. is the leading exporter of forest products in Canada, at $13.7 billion.


Bark Beetle Infestation Offers Warning on Delicate Workings of Climate Disruption

Earlier this month, a small group of interested citizens gathered at the Evergreen Library in Evergreen, Colo., to attend a Tuesday night program called “Beyond the Headlines: The Pine Beetle Infestation.” For some, it may seem a strange time to hold such a program, as the weather has been pretty wet and there hasn’t been much pine beetle activity in their neck of Colorado’s Front Range.

But a potential disaster looms just over the next ridge, figuratively and literally.

Several species of bark beetles – such as mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae), piƱon ips beetle (Ips confusus), and spruce beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis) – are attacking and devastating the predominantly conifer forests of western North America from British Columbia to New Mexico. Tens of millions of acres of western forests have been affected by die-offs of infected trees the past few years, causing more than $1 billion in damage annually in the United States alone.

Pipeline plan seen as economic driver

For decades, community leaders have grappled with diversifying the economy of northern British Columbia. Moving beyond the resource boom and bust cycle of the past has become all the more difficult in recent years. The North has felt one body blow after another: the softwood lumber battle, the mountain pine beetle disaster, and most recently, the collapse of the US housing industry and the global economic downturn.

Unemployment rates in the North, after improving considerably between 2002 and 2008, have crept back into double digits. The latest Statistics Canada unemployment rates range from 10.5 per cent in the North Coast and Nechako regions to 12.0 per cent in Prince George to 14.2 per cent in the Cariboo.

While the immediate economic future of the North may seem uncertain, one thing is for sure, with vision and long-term planning, the North can benefit from a critical mass of new industries. The debate, discussion and dialogue about what the long-term future should look like are well under way. The “Decade of the North” is truly taking shape.

Pine beetles

This year many unwanted insects have been filling the trees in Big Sky. Those are pine beetles that turn healthy, lush green pine trees into red lifeless fire hazards.

So why are the dead trees still lurking about?

“The Fuels Reduction Program (to reduce the unnatural build-up of fuel in the forest) keeps coming under attack from groups like “Earth Justice” and “Alliance For the Rockies,” says Brad Grein, a member of Citizens for Balanced Use. “Every time there are scheduled timber cuts these groups assault the Forest Service with lawsuits. As a result the Forest Service spends a large amount of their budget in court fighting these people while the fire hazards grow,” Grein continued.



Out-of-work resource workers will benefit from close to $170,000 in Job Opportunities Program funds to carry out Fir Bark Beetle mitigation and grassland ecosystem restoration, Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett announced.

“These Job Opportunities projects are part of our strategy to preserve vital resource industries while stimulating the economy through job creation,” said Barnett. “It’s important for the Province to protect resource-dependent communities like 100 Mile House and Williams Lake from further damage caused by beetle infestations and to restore valuable grasslands from fir encroachment.”

The three projects will create immediate employment for 20 out-of-work resource workers.


Federal beetle-wood funding could have prevented wildfires: advocates

A near-record forest fire season in B.C. has been exacerbated by the federal government backing away from providing millions of dollars to reduce the threat of pine-beetle-killed wood, a First Nations group said Thursday.

The federal money could have been used to help clear the dead wood, providing firebreaks that could have prevented the blaze from coming within hundreds of metres of communities, B.C. First Nations Forestry Council vice-president Bill Williams said.

But hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for the pine-beetle program disappeared from this year’s federal budget, replaced by an economic stimulus plan that barely mentions the beetle crisis.

Minister brings sizzle, no steak

B.C.'s Agriculture Minister, Steve Thomson, made vague promises on Wednesday of policy and regulatory changes to foster the province's agriculture industry, including in areas hit by the pine beetle epidemic.

Thomson said he would be relying on the findings of a ranching task force expected to deliver recommendations in early October, and had also reviewed the Omineca Beetle Action Coalition's recent strategy to grow the industry in northern B.C. along the Highway 16 corridor.

"The biggest challenge is to ensure we can get systems and policies and programs in place to ensure that producers are viable, get a good economic return for their effort. And that's where a lot of our focus will be over the next few months and years in this position," said Thomson, the MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

BC First Nations and Municipalities Cheated

British Columbia’s forest-dependent First Nations Communities today called on the province’s municipalities to join the fight to get long- promised funding to address the pine-beetle exacerbated fire threats.

“First Nations have been cheated out of tens of millions of dollars that were promised to make their pine-beetle devastated communities safer from fires, but other municipalities have been cheated out of hundreds of millions,” said FNFC president Leonard Thomas.

“This is not just a First Nations battle,” said Mr. Thomas. “If the federal government had honored its pledge to BC, and the Province had honoured its commitment to us, then First Nations would have received $80 million by now to address the fire threats to our communities, and non-aboriginal communities would have received $320 million.”


Researcher looking for way to minimize spread of mountain pine beetle

A University of Alberta researcher is receiving almost $300,000 to explore how to protect Canada's jack pine forests from the mountain pine beetle, which is already laying waste to the country's lodgepole pine trees.

"Cold climate is basically what has kept the mountain pine beetle out of Alberta forests, and not just Alberta, but also some areas in British Columbia," said Nadir Erbilgin, a Canada Research Chair in Forest Entomology and assistant professor of renewable resources at the U of A. "The pine beetle has a limit of about minus 40 Celsius, but we are now facing global warming, which brings higher temperatures at northern latitudes, so that could change.

In fact, he says, "It is changing."


Edmonton scientist battles pine beetle threat

A researcher at the University of Alberta is trying to prevent mountain pine beetles, which have already devastated huge swaths of lodgepole pine in British Columbia, from feeding on Alberta's jack pine forests.

The beetles are moving east and are now less than 100 kilometres away from significant stands of jack pines in Alberta, said Nadir Erbilgin, who has been awarded $300,000 over three years to find ways to keep the beetles in check.

"There is a potential that [the beetles are] going to infest, establish and survive in jack pine forests," said Erbilgin, an assistant professor and Canada Research chairman in forest entomology whose area of expertise includes plant-induced defences against insects.


Pine beetles in Golden

Three lodgepole pine trees within Golden city limits have been infected with the mountain pine beetle, but the affected trees were very isolated, according to Golden's City Forester, Dave High.

The trees are the first cases of mountain pine beetle within the city as the beetle moves to lower elevations looking for new food sources. Two trees were found in the Beverly Heights neighborhood at the base of Lookout Mountain and one in downtown Golden.

However, High said that the wet and cool weather has made this a good year for tree health, which makes the insect easier for a conifer to fight.

BC Joins the Wind Revolution

Tzeporah Berman, Executive Director of PowerUP Canada, was on hand for today's opening of the Bear Mountain Wind Park. Berman celebrated the spinning turbines and called for more aggressive laws and policies to build a clean economy and combat global warming:

"From beetle infestations to the fires raging through our province, we can see the danger of a hotter planet in our daily lives. Frankly, it's about time BC got some wind energy on line. Three-quarters of BC's energy still comes from fossil fuels. If we're going to get cars and factories onto a green grid, we need aggressive action by the Provincial and Federal Governments."

PowerUP Canada sees British Columbia having important advantages which could make the province a model for the world. With the base load power from big hydro dams backing up a modern renewable grid, B.C. could build a model for a fossil fuel-free world. It will take aggressive action by government, the private sector and all British Columbians to promote efficiency, clean energy and deploy technologies like electric vehicles.


Burns pushed back a while

Wet weather in late-July and into August have held Alberta Sustainable Resources crews at bay, as they try to burn areas in the battle against Mountain Pine Beetle.

SRD was planning to continue burns on Mount Nestor in Kananaskis to thwart the Mountain Pine Beetle and burn forest stand susceptible to the small beetle. But Rick Arthur, Wildfire Prevention Officer with SRD, said recent rain has delayed the project yet again.

“We need a few weeks without rain and when we go to burn, we just need a few weeks of warmer-than-normal burn weather,” Arthur said. “Right now, I am saying at best the latter part of August.”

Get fired up over badly managed forests

As fires rage across southern B.C., homeowners and taxpayers wonder if there's a plan to deal with tinder-dry, beetle-infested forests.

Hundreds of thousands of homes across the province's southern half straddle the urban/wild interface, from picturesque Lake Okanagan, to the densely populated North Shore of the Lower Mainland, to Whistler, a site of the 2010 Olympics.

As climate models have predicted, smaller snowpacks, earlier spring melts, longer, drier fire seasons, retreating glaciers and the largest native mountain pine beetle infestation in modern times are the telltales for the perfect storm of the mismanaged bone-dry B.C. forests. Residents are rightfully furious the lessons of the hellacious 2003 fire season appear to have been disregarded.


Pine Beetles, debris fueling wildfires in B.C.

Hot dry weather is among the more obvious reasons for the large number of wildfires in British Columbia this summer.

In the North Shore Mountains near Vancouver, for example, district firefighters have had to deal with about 60 fire incidents so far this year, either in the bush, or in forested areas.

That compares to 45 in an average year.

March of the beetles bodes ill for American forests

From the vantage point of an 80-foot (25 meter) tower rising above the trees, the Wyoming vista seems idyllic: snow-capped peaks in the distance give way to shimmering green spruce.

But this is a forest under siege. Among the green foliage of the healthy spruce are the orange-red needles of the sick and the dead, victims of a beetle infestation closely related to one that has already laid waste to millions of acres (hectares) of pine forest in North America.

“The gravity of the situation is very real,” said Rolf Skar, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace.


Federal Funding Supports New Green Opportunities for Nicola Valley

Today, the Honourable Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade, Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Member of Parliament for Okanagan - Coquihalla, on behalf of the Honourable Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, announced federal support for a bio-energy project with the City of Merritt and the Lower Nicola Indian Band (LNIB).

"Our Government is proud to support the economic recovery of our mountain pine beetle affected communities," said Minister Day. "Recycling waste materials into usable energy is a new green opportunity that will assist our region to move forward towards a stronger future."

This innovative initiative will determine the best approach and technology for establishing a bio-energy and/or commercial pellet plant in the Nicola Valley. The study will investigate the viability of producing wood pellets from forest and agricultural residue, municipal waste and mountain pine beetle infested fibre. The wood pellets would then be converted into energy that could heat commercial, residential and agricultural buildings.

On the front lines

When a fire tears through a healthy forest of trees, firefighters have a pretty good idea of how quickly the flames can consume it. However, when an area has been devastated by the mountain pine beetle, as many parts of British Columbia's forests have been, the speed and intensity of the flame is hard to predict.

When the mountain pine beetle infests a tree, it bores itself into it through the trees bark and into the phloem layer, which carries nutrients throughout the plant. There the beetle will feed, lay eggs and, as a result of damage to the phloem layer, will kill the tree. In large enough infestations the beetle can cause starvation in the tree in just two weeks.

Right now in British Columbia, the parasite is believed to have infested close to 13.5 million hectares of the province’s pine trees. Firefighters currently battling the ongoing fires in that province are routinely finding themselves working in dead pine tree stands.