Pine in line for endangered list as bugs, disease take their toll

An alpine species of pine that is stressed by mountain pine beetles and a disease called rust may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced.

Whitebark pine, which in North Central Washington grows only on mountains above approximately 6,000 feet, is undergoing a status review by the agency.

The nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council — which petitioned to list whitebark pine as threatened or endangered — says climate change is also threatening survival of the tree.


Pine beetle spurs infrastructure construction in British Columbia

The spread of the mountain pine beetle epidemic in B.C. and the decline of the forest industry is stimulating investment in the construction of infrastructure to support the expansion of the mining, energy and transportation industries.

A report released by the Central 1 Credit Union concludes the mountain pine beetle epidemic that spread through the B.C. Interior over the past decade will reduce the province’s available timber supply over the next 20 years.

In the long term, the epidemic will result in the loss of employment in the forest industry and change the distribution of the population.

Pines, Beetles and Bears

White bark pine forests are in trouble all across Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. Great swaths of trees are dead or dying after being attacked by the mountain pine beetle and a disease called white pine blister rust. The forests used to be protected by harsh winters and cool summers. But warmer winters and summers have allowed the beetle to breed more quickly and to move to the higher elevations favored by white bark pines.

Last summer, pilots working with the United States Forest Service and the Natural Resources Defense Council made low-level flights over 25 million acres of forest, trying to gauge how much damage has been done. The results, released this month, are devastating. Just over half the white bark pine forests are dead; one-fourth have medium to high mortality; few forests have escaped some damage.

The wider ecological effects could be serious. These forests slow the rate of spring snowmelt; without them, the spring runoff will happen faster and streams and rivers will see reduced flow and higher temperatures later in the season. The loss of the pines also threatens the symbiotic relation between the Clark’s nutcracker and the pines, which depend on the bird for reseeding, as well as red squirrels, which gather pine nuts.


Province disputes projected forestry-job losses due to beetle

B.C.’s Forests Minister says out-of-date information was used in an analysis that projects thousands of jobs will be lost around the province because of the mountain pine beetle infestation.

While Central 1 Credit Union says the impact will cost more than 11,000 jobs in the next 20 years, Pat Bell said Thursday the industry is poised to gain up to 10,000 jobs in the next decade.

“It's important for the public to understand [that] while this data may have been relevant to 2005-2006, compared to today's employment numbers we should see employment growth in the forest industry, not decline,” Mr. Bell said.


Whitebark Pine: Climate Change Has This Tree in Trouble

A troubling picture of climate change impacts ravaging western North America is emerging at high elevations where an important species is rapidly disappearing. This week a groundbreaking report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and a key Endangered Species List decision both pointed to growing danger that the whitebark pine tree could become functionally extinct before the end of this decade, severely impacting many American and Canadian forests and potentially downstream fisheries and communities. The new report shows that over 80% of the whitebark pine forests of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana are already dead or dying.

"The red and grey trees littering the western landscape are a testament to the fact that North America's forests are under assault," said Louisa Willcox, senior wildlife advocate for NRDC and one of the minds behind a new report on whitebark pine mortality in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. "Climate change is hitting the whitebark pine hard by allowing mountain pine beetles access to previously inhospitable forests at higher elevations. Whitebark, which grows from roughly 8500 feet up to treeline, has never had to fight off a threat like this, and if we don't act quickly, we could lose this essential tree species."

Whitebark pines can be found from Nevada to British Columbia (including the high Sierras of California, the ranges throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the Cascades and Olympic Mountains of Washington state, and beyond). Scientists regard the tree as a "foundation species" because of its importance in creating the conditions necessary for other trees, plants and animals to become established in the harsh alpine ecosystem. Whitebark pine is also considered a keystone species, because its health is a measure of the intergrity of the whole high-elevation ecosystem.

Ravages of pine beetle set to linger: Central 1 Credit Union

The mountain pine beetle epidemic in the B.C. Interior will reduce the province’s available timber supply over the next 20 years, resulting in the loss of forestry-supported jobs in the region and cause potential population outflows, according to Central 1 Credit Union.

Central 1 forecasts that net forestry-supported harvesting, silviculture and processing jobs will decline by 11,250 person-years from the pre-infestation period. In turn, that could lead to the loss of a further 9,500 indirect and induced person-years of work, unless there are opportunities in alternative industries for displaced workers.

Central 1’s latest Economic Analysis of British Columbia newsletter projects that, during the next 20 years, the forestry supported population in the Interior will decline by 28,700 people and that 11,500 currently occupied housing units will be empty.


White-bark pine ravaged throughout Yellowstone

The clear, high peaks of the greater Yellowstone region once were studded with huge stands of majestic white-bark pine forests, some of the trees 1,000 years old.

A decade or so ago, big pockets of rust started appearing as the green pine needles succumbed to infestation and disease. Since then, it's become worse: Unable to fend off invading armies of mountain pine beetles, large swaths of the forest have simply died. An alarming part of the high-elevation landscape across the mountains of Wyoming, eastern Idaho and southern Montana is gradually turning eerie and gray.

"You get a picture of how breathtaking it is from the air," said Louisa Willcox, a senior researcher with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has completed a first-ever aerial survey of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem to document the extent of the threat to the region's white-bark pine forests. "All the gray you see in the eastern part of Yellowstone Park and the Absaroka Mountans are gray ghosts [of dead trees]. Basically, white-bark pine [there] is functionally gone, functionally lost."

Pine beetle will cost 11,000 jobs in B.C. communities: study

The ravages of the mountain pine beetle epidemic that peaked in 2005 will be felt for years, and forestry-dependent communities without a diverse economy will undergo a population drain, a new report states.

In its latest Economic Analysis of British Columbia newsletter, Central 1 Credit Union forecasts that over the next two decades, the forestry supported population in the B.C. Interior districts affected by the epidemic will decline by 28,700 people, and occupied housing will fall by 11,500 units.

By 2028, forestry jobs in harvesting, silviculture and processing will decline by 11,250 compared to the pre-infestation period, with a further loss of 9,500 indirect jobs.

Mountain Pine Beetle still threatens forests

Although officials believe a significant number of mountain pine beetles died through the winter and spring months, there is still concern about the threat of an in-flight of beetles this summer, especially in the southwestern corridor of the province.

Provincial officials released their findings from beetle surveys completed through May. For the Oldman River/Crowsnest Pass area they found beetle survival was low and there is a “low probability of local beetle production and spread. However, there is an extremely high probability of in-flights this summer.”

The area will be closely monitored to assess risk to the large volume of susceptible, connected pine as there is a still a large beetle population in southeastern British Columbia forests.

Early thaw, cold snap drove down mountain pine beetle numbers

The numbers are in on mountain pine beetle larvae mortality over this past winter, and local unpredictable weather contributed greatly to reducing the risk of the insect spreading in the area.

The local area, including the Wilmore Wilderness and Grande Cache, saw a low beetle survival rate because of an early thaw followed by a cold snap.

Mountain pine beetles have a natural anti-freeze that helps them survive during the winter but they shed this protection in the spring when temperatures warm. The early spring thaw tricked the beetles' bodies into thinking it was spring and when the temperatures dropped to the -20 range again they were unprotected.


Pine beetles dealt ‘significant’ blow

At first warm, then freezing, spring may have first lifted, then crushed, spirits throughout Alberta, bit it also served to do some serious damage to mountain pine beetles.

According to Alberta Sustainable Resource Development Minister Mel Knight, frigid weather during both this spring and last winter killed a significant number of the hardy rice-sized beetles.

“With the exception of a few hot spots in the north and west, the survival rate of the beetles was low,” Knight stated in a recent press release. “While this is good news, the cold weather did not completely eliminate the beetles and there is still the threat of additional in-flights from British Columbia, so the battle continues.”


UNBC Pine Beetle Researcher Wins National Award

A professor at the University of Northern British Columbia, who is involved in research on the DNA of the mountain pine beetle, is being honoured by the Entomological Society of Canada for his efforts and activities in the field of entomology – the scientific study of insects.

Dezene Huber will be awarded the C. Gordon Hewitt Award at the annual Entomological Society of Canada meeting in Vancouver at the end of October.

“Dr. Huber has already made significant contributions that have advanced entomology in Canada and in the global community,” says Dr. Peter Mason, Chair of the Society’s Achievement Awards Committee. “We are happy to present Dr. Huber with this award, based on his scientific contributions, commitment to teaching, outreach activities, and service to the Entomological Society.”


Alberta's beetle battle to cost $800 million

Alberta's campaign against the mountain pine beetle will cost up to $800 million over the next two decades, predicts provincial Sustainable Resource Development Minister Mel Knight.

Giving an update on the "war" against the rice-sized bug, Knight said the fight to bring the beetle population back in line with historic norms could take 20 years and draw hundreds of millions from the provincial treasury. "I would suggest that those sorts of dollars over a 20-year period would not seem unreasonable," the minister said.

"Given what we see, you know, (in) changes in the climate over the last number of years and a bit of easing of some of our kinda long deep winter freezes, we may want to be sure that we continue the control program."

Winter aids Alberta's fight with pine beetles

Winter and spring temperatures Western Canada were cold enough to help slow the spread of mountain pine beetles in Alberta's forests, according to the province's latest survey.

The cold weather destroyed a significant number of the tree-killing insects, but did not eliminate them, and Alberta remains threatened by beetles crossing the Rocky Mountains from British Columbia.

Beetle survival rates were low in most areas except in northwest Alberta, near Grande Prairie. Insects being carried by the wind from British Columbia remain a problem in southwest Alberta and the forests near Banff National Park.

Cold weather helps reduce pine beetles

A cold winter and spring put a dent in the mountain pine beetle population, according to the province’s over-winter mortality survey.

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development Minister Mel Knight announced the findings Wednesday. He said the cold weather didn’t eliminate the beetles and Alberta pine forests are still at risk of more in-flights from British Columbia.

Survey results for the Oldman River/Crowsnest Pass area showed a low survival rate and a low likelihood of local beetle production and spread. Despite that, the risk of beetles moving in from B.C. is expected to be high for the next several years. As a result, the southwest area of the province is a priority for beetle control work.
The province tries to minimize the spread of infestations by removing single trees or stand-level (clear-cutting certain areas) harvests and doing controlled burns.

Winter kills most Alberta pine beetles

A cold winter has killed off a significant number of mountain pine beetles in Alberta but the province warned Wednesday the war against the bugs is far from over.

The government said the tiny beetles still managed to kill a huge number of trees that must be disposed of and then replanted.

Sustainable Resource Development Minister Mel Knight says the province is also expecting inflights of a new generation of beetles from British Columbia.

UNBC Researcher Wins Award for Beetle Study

A UNBC researcher is being honoured by the Entomological Society of Canada for his efforts and activities in the field of entomology – the scientific study of insects.

Dr. Dezene Huber will be awarded the C. Gordon Hewitt Award at the annual Entomological Society of Canada meeting in Vancouver this fall for his work on the DNA of the mountain pine beetle.

Specifically, Dr. Huber has been focusing on the genes of the beetle which contribute to the beetle’s ability to withstand extreme winter temperatures. “We’re now working on what turns specific genes on and off in the autumn and spring, with the hope of better understanding the climatic variables that impact insect overwintering success,” says Dr. Huber.

A Sea Of Brown

After years of drought, the Mountain Pine Beetle has turned thousands of acres in the Black Hills into a brown wasteland.

Beetle infested trees caused such a fire hazard at Mt. Rushmore they had to cancel this year's fireworks display. The forest service and other organizations have been busy trying to stop these beetles.

Now the trees are getting a helping hand from Mother Nature.


Park Lake remains closed; dead trees remain hazard

The sounds of happy campers won’t fill the shores of Park Lake this Fourth of July weekend — or for the rest of the summer for that matter — as the popular recreation area southwest of Helena remains closed for a second year due to hazards posed by standing dead lodgepole pines.

Up to 95 percent of the lodgepoles in and around the Park Lake campground are dead, and the ground is littered with those that already have fallen. Some are uprooted, while others were cracked in half by strong winds. One tree lies across the Forest Service road that leads to the lake, and the paved loop around the campground is thick with the red needles fallen from the pines.

This is the second year in a row the 22-site campground has been declared off-limits to the public by Helena National Forest officials because of fears that the trees killed in the current mountain pine beetle epidemic will fall on people, injuring or even killing them. The Park Lake site also was closed in 2005 while the lake was drained and a 105-year-old dam was repaired.