2010-09-27

Bark beetles may kill trees, but that may not raise fire risk

A study in the Yellowstone region finds that the infestations actually reduced the risk of wildfire by thinning tree crowns. The bark beetle has spread across the West since the 1990s.

Dire warnings have accompanied the armies of bark beetles that bored their way across the Mountain West in the past decade: Millions of acres had turned into a tinderbox of scraggly, dead trees ready to explode in flames.

But scientists are pouring water on that conventional wisdom.

2010-09-25

BC lumber optimism grows because of new markets and products

It used to be so easy. All you had to do was look at housing start numbers for the US. That determined the health of the forest industry in British Columbia and, to a large extent, the state of the whole BC economy. This was when the woods sector had one dominant market, US home builders, and one prominent product, dimension lumber – of course in US dimensions. And it was the dominant player in BC’s economy.

The wood sector has changed now and not for the better. On September 14, Business In Vancouver published a list of the 100 fastest growing companies in British Columbia. There was not one forest company on the list. And we can’t use the excuse that we don’t expect companies, especially larger ones in an established sector, to be growing quickly. There were many mining companies on the list – not all of them small.

2010-09-23

Meeting on timber supply concerns cancelled

District of 100 Mile House scheduled a public meeting at the request of West Fraser Mills on Sept. 14, but the company cancelled that day because representatives weren’t available to attend.

According to the agenda, the West Fraser representatives were going to address council “regarding the impending effects on the timber supply by the mountain pine beetles infestation and some possible actions that would mitigate these effects in order to support community stability.”

Asked for comments during an interview in 100 Mile earlier that day, Environment Minister Barry Penner shuffled through some papers and noted, West Fraser was looking to access timber in mule deer wintering range and old-growth forests,” but said he couldn’t comment on it until he was properly briefed.

2010-09-20

Pinnacle Pellet breaks ground on new plant

Pinnacle Pellet has officially broken ground on a new pellet plant to be built near Burns Lake, British Columbia.

The plant will produce wood pellets from mountain pine beetle killed wood.

Pinnacle Plant plans to product 400,000 tonnes of wood pellets a year and will export the product to European and Asian markets.

2010-09-19

New pellet plant to use beetle wood and create jobs

A new plant near Burns Lake will produce pellets from mountain pine beetle-killed wood and help boost the local economy, Forests and Range Minister Pat Bell and Pinnacle Pellet chief operating officer Leroy Reitsma announced today.

“I’d like to congratulate Pinnacle Pellet on their sixth wood pellet plant and their significant contribution to the B.C. economy,” said Bell. “One of my key focuses is to improve utilization, and not only will this new plant help do that by using leftover low-grade timber and wood waste for bioenergy purposes, it will also create jobs for British Columbians.”

Wood pellets are a carbon-neutral alternative to fossil fuels such as coal, and will be made from mountain pine beetle-attacked timber. The estimated 400,000 tonnes per year of wood pellets to be produced at the Burns Lake facility will be exported to European and Asian markets.

2010-09-15

Major project to use beetle killed wood

Pine beetle damaged wood has found an innovative use in a highly sustainable Okanagan College building, the Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Technologies located in Penticton.

CEI Architecture Planning Interiors of B.C has successfully negotiated with the International Living Building Institute (ILBI), which urges architects, contractors and building owners to create buildings to the highest standards of sustainability, to use wood from pine-beetle kill forest

The Centre of Excellence is the province’s first building to use pine-beetle kill wood as a stand-in for Forest Stewardship Council certified lumber.

New study shows beetle kills will grow with warming climate

The results of a recent Forest Service research study that shows beetle infestations will grow as western forests get warmer shouldn’t be a surprise.

But the ecological impact of the death of billions of coniferous trees from Mexico to Alaska is only beginning to be understood. The researchers show that the spruce and mountain pine beetles will thrive under the conditions forecast for climate change.

We already have seen this from Colorado up into British Columbia and in the higher elevations where species like whitebark pine are facing bettle kills they’ve not seen before.


Removing danger trees killed by pine beetles

If a tree falls in the forest – better that it’s not beside someone’s tent or picnic table.

Thanks to the mountain pine beetle invasion, thousands of trees in B.C. are designated as “danger trees” because they have severe lean, root damage, or rotten branches that make them likely to fall. For safety’s sake, these trees are being removed from within striking distance of campsites, picnic tables, outhouses, or parking lots.

“Just because it’s dead, doesn’t make it a danger tree because it’s still got good roots,” says said recreation officer Doug Harris, who has overseen the removal of 14,000 trees since 2003 from recreation sites in his region.


New Okanagan College building uses pine-beetle ravaged lumber

Vancouver-based CEI Architecture Planning Interiors has used British Columbia lumber ravaged by the pine beetle epidemic in construction of a new building at Okanagan College in Penticton.

CEI negotiated with the International Living Building Institute – which urges architects, contractors and building owners to create buildings to the highest standards of sustainability – to use wood from pine-beetle kill forest on the project in lieu of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified lumber.

The Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Technologies and Renewable Energy Conservation is the province’s first building to use pine-beetle kill wood as a stand-in for FSC-certified lumber.


2010-09-13

Could pine beetles actually reduce forest fire risk?

Thousands of tall pine trees killed from the inside out. Large swaths of lush forest turned brown.

There's no doubt that the tiny mountain pine beetle has caused massive destruction along the Pacific Coast. But that doesn't mean that the bug has raised the forest fire risk, says a team of three researchers.

In fact, in some cases, forests destroyed by the beetle may actually be less likely to burn.

The beetle and the feedback loop

The valleys of the Interior of British Columbia are like slashes in the Earth’s skin — deep, steep, dramatic, falling precipitously into dark, narrow lakes. The landscape looks like frozen violence, the product of a time when tectonic plates collided, their edges crumpling and folding under the unimaginable force of crustal jockeying.

But the violence is not frozen, and the jockeying is not over. The plates are still moving. Their sudden shifts are earthquakes, and their vents are volcanoes. These mountains and valleys are part of a stupendous "Ring of Fire" that surrounds the entire Pacific Ocean.

We think of geology as finished, complete, the world having been made ready for its masters. But geology is never finished. Nature is always a work in progress. On our recent trip, Marjorie and I enjoyed the hot springs of Ainsworth and Nakusp. What heats that water? The hell-fires in the basement of the mountains.

2010-09-10

Meet The Beetles

It's not easy to spot an insect from space, but NASA has figured out a way to do it—sort of. Long before the confected debate on whether climate change was real or just a theory was resolved in favor of science, the space agency was turning the eyes of its weather satellites on the problem, looking at global temperature and precipitation patterns and seeing how these jibed with warming models. Now the space agency is taking a more pointillist approach, using its LANDSAT satellite to study the damage being done by the mountain pine beetle—a pest that's benefited from global warming in a big way.

Mountain pine beetles love the heat, and while they've long been a fixture across the western stretches of North America, the hotter summers and milder winters of the past two decades have caused their populations to soar. That's bad news for the lodgepole and white bark pines, which are the beetles' favorite nesting spots. From Mexico all the way up to Alaska—but especially in British Columbia, Colorado and other parts of the Rockies—billions of pines have died off, literally chewed to death by beetles.

It's no secret where the greatest damage has been done, since beetle-infested trees turn red as they die, giving vast stretches of forests an odd, autumnal look. In a just-released video, NASA reveals how it's using LANDSAT to survey the toll the beetles have taken on a continent-wide scale, and then get down into the woods to examine things up close. It's important to study the forest from both perspectives, since simply because a stretch of landscape looks dead or red from space doesn't mean that beetles are the perps. Drought or other diseases or infestations could have caused the damage.


Satellites offer clues to forest fates

Rocketing numbers of pine beetles have decimated areas of forest from British Columbia to Colorado so large they can be detected by satellites, authorities say.

NASA says scientists use Landsat satellite imagery to map these pine beetle outbreaks and determine what impact the beetle damage might have on forest fires.

University of Wisconsin forest ecologists compared maps of areas hardest-hit by the beetles with maps of recent fires. Their preliminary analysis indicates large fires do not appear to occur more often or with greater severity in forest tracts with beetle damage. In fact, some beetle-killed forest swaths may actually be less likely to burn.


NASA Satellites Reveal Surprising Connection Between Beetle Attacks, Wildfire

If your summer travels have taken you across the Rocky Mountains, you've probably seen large swaths of reddish trees dotting otherwise green forests. While it may look like autumn has come early to the mountains, evergreen trees don't change color with the seasons. The red trees are dying, the result of attacks by mountain pine beetles.

Mountain pine beetles are native to western forests, and they have evolved with the trees they infest, such as lodgepole pine and whitebark pine trees. However, in the last decade, warmer temperatures have caused pine beetle numbers to skyrocket. Huge areas of red, dying forest now span from British Columbia through Colorado, and there's no sign the outbreak is slowing in many areas.

The affected regions are so large that NASA satellites, such as Landsat, can even detect areas of beetle-killed forest from space. Today, NASA has released a new video about how scientists can use Landsat satellite imagery to map these pine beetle outbreaks, and what impact the beetle damage might have on forest fire.