2011-01-06

Alberta winning battle against beetles thanks to lessons learned in B.C.

The infestation began five summers ago: A thick swarm of mountain pine beetles rode prevailing winds above tree canopies, eastward from British Columbia, to set down for the first time ever in west-central Alberta.

After the insect had irrevocably chewed through B.C.’s forests – the ultimate toll will see one-third of the province’s forests dead, with as many as 20,000 jobs lost – the beetle’s en-masse arrival in Alberta looked like scientists’ worst fears realized. An ugly picture took shape: the spread of one of Canada’s worst-ever environmental catastrophes, a ruined boreal forest, the scourge travelling inexorably eastward toward Ontario.
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The finger of Brad Jones, a Forest Health Officer points to a (now) dead male & female Mountain Pine Beetle to show their size in a fallen tree limb. Crew members of the Mountain Pine Beetle crew set a controlled burn to trees in the area that have been infested by the Mountain Pine Beetle. After determining a tree is infested with mountain pine beetle, control crews will fall the tree and cut it into smaller portions to be piled and burned. Mountain pine beetles are attacking the province's pine trees. Left unmanaged, the beetle could devastate Alberta's pine forests and spread eastward across Canada's boreal region.

But in a combination of weather-aided luck, the wisdom of lessons learned in British Columbia and an aggressive $250-million counterattack, Alberta sees the first signs that it is winning the fight to stop the voracious plague. Much is at stake: While the province is known for oil and natural gas, forestry is the No. 3 industry, generating $11-billion annually and 44,000 jobs for the economy. And the spectre of further advance, with untold economic damage across the country, has made Alberta – for now – Canada’s bulwark against the beetle.