UNBC Receives Funding to Research Best Uses for Pine Beetle-Infested Wood

A research project at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) will be receiving $100,000 to study the best uses for stands of timber killed by the mountain pine beetle. The project, led by UNBC Ecosystem Science and Management professor Art Fredeen, involves researchers from UNBC, UBC, and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The research aims to assist policy-makers and forest-users in achieving the best balance when utilizing BC's forest resource. Specifically, it attempts to increase understanding of when and where it makes sense to harvest beetle-attacked forests.

The award--to be split over two years--is part of $450,000 in new research funding announced by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS). The goal is to aid studies on the impact of climate change on the province's forests and find more sustainable management practices.

"Many parties, including the BC government, independent power producers, and the forestry industry, have advocated for the production of energy from wood, driven largely by the mountain pine beetle outbreak and the fate of an estimated 675 million cubic metres of pine in the province," says Dr. Fredeen. "However, new research indicates that these attacked pine stands are far from lifeless, and in many cases are already carbon sinks, in addition to their providing quality lumber and bioenergy fuel."


Scientists: Despite beetle epidemic, forest resilient

University of Wyoming professor Dan Tinker clicked the power point slide at Friday's Future Forests Summit to bring up a grim photograph.

Reminiscent of scenes from movies set in post apocalyptic worlds, the image showed a forest so destroyed by wind and fire that only a few hopeless stumps still stood, silhouetted against the sky.

It was a photo of Yellowstone National Park in the wake of the 1988 wildfire.


Empire of the beetle

Anyone who has driven through central BC recently knows what mountain pine beetles can do to a forest. Huge swaths of dead trees now blanket entire mountainsides in red. British Columbia's bark beetle outbreak was unprecedented, and it didn't take long before the insects began dropping in on Alberta.

While there's a temptation to think of mountain pine beetles as a BC problem that has begun to seep into Alberta from next door, Andrew Nikiforuk makes clear in his new book, Empire of the Beetle, that nothing could be further from the truth. While bark beetles are a natural, healthy part of forest ecosystems, in recent decades outbreaks have been growing in severity and the insects have started popping up in areas where they have never been seen before. In the 1990s they wiped out more than 200 million trees in Alaska before crossing the border into the Yukon and wreaking havoc with an ecosystem that had never seen them before. In the 2000s they hit Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. The outbreak in BC may be close to home, but it is far from an isolated incident.

Nikiforuk spent two years crisscrossing the continent in search of bark beetles and the people whose lives they've changed. While government and industry are quick to tally the economic costs of lost timber, it soon became clear that the true impact is on the psyches of ordinary people. In Alaska, a couple who built their home amongst a cathedral of towering Sitka spruce packs up and leaves, heartbroken by the loss of their trees. In central BC, school children begin colouring the lodgepole pines in their drawings red rather than green. An artist organizes a touring exhibition of work commemorating the lost forests which sees visitors leave in tears. The financial costs may be huge, but the communities that have been affected by bark beetles need far more than economic help.


A complicated balance

As humans, we use the forest in many ways, benefitting from the resources it offers to business, tourism, housing and recreation. Still, we are only one part of a large, diverse population that calls the Black Hills home.

We share the forest with the pine beetle as well as the pine marten. Goshawks, deer, elk, trout, even snails and uncountable insects hang their hats in the vast acres of equally diverse tree species that make up our forest.

But finding a proper balance between our uses of it, the lives of other species and maintaining the best possible conditions for the health of the trees, is a complex issue — particularly because the environment affected by the outbreak is also in some ways responsible for causing it.


Painful lessons from blighted forests

It's 2001 all over again in forestry news these days, now that those nasty little mountain pine beetles have worked their way into Alberta.

The story in the Edmonton Journal this week about the beetle infestation could have been lifted from any B.C. newspaper a decade ago, when the insidious insects first began upping their game in our own lodgepole-pine forests.

More than 17 million hectares of B.C. pine forest have been affected since then. The province has spent more than $750 million trying to mitigate the damage.


Beetle invasion threatens Jasper Park's forests

In the summer of 2010, Parks Canada biologist Dave Smith conducted aerial and ground surveys of three main valleys in Jasper National Park and found 400 trees that had been attacked by the mountain pine beetle.

Until then, Jasper had been one of the few regions on the east slopes of the Rockies that had not been seriously affected by this slow moving catastrophe that has destroyed million-dollar mountain views, shuttered lumber mills, dramatically intensified the threat of forest fires and reshaped British Columbia’s economy the past 15 years.

But this summer when I joined Smith and Gary Roke, a mountain pine beetle specialist with the Canadian Forest Service, they found so many trees in Jasper that had been reddened by the pine beetle that they decided that there was no use counting again; they would have to find some other way of monitoring the situation.

Compensation to be provided for beetle damage

Town of Edson and Yellowhead County residents who've had trees damaged by the mountain pine beetle can once again get them replaced through the ReLeaf Program.

Tree Canada and Alberta Sustainable Resources, with sponsorships from Telus and Strive Energy, will provide a total of $100,000 in compensation to Alberta residents whose trees have been impacted. The Alberta government has contributed $60,000 to the program, while Telus and Strive Energy chipped in $30,000 and $10,000 respectively.

Sustainable Resources Development spokesperson Duncan MacDonnell said last year's money was spread around the province to affected landowners. But claimants should not go through SRD.

With Deaths of Forests, a Loss of Key Climate Protectors

The trees spanning many of the mountainsides of western Montana glow an earthy red, like a broadleaf forest at the beginning of autumn.

But these trees are not supposed to turn red. They are evergreens, falling victim to beetles that used to be controlled in part by bitterly cold winters. As the climate warms, scientists say, that control is no longer happening.

Across millions of acres, the pines of the northern and central Rockies are dying, just one among many types of forests that are showing signs of distress these days.


Provincial outlook for forestry not so bleak

Chief Forester Jim Snetsinger has said the province's short and mid term timber supply outlook is not as dismal as predicted five years ago.

He said to Lakes District News that while the Lakes Timber Supply Area (Lakes TSA) has been hard hit by the mountain pine beetle epidemic, provincially things are shaping up to be better than originally predicted.

The predictions are based on annual province wide aerial monitoring. "Using a fixed wing aircraft, flights are made province wide for aerial mapping." Predictions are also about a year behind the destruction. Many trees are dead but are still green, not yet showing the signature red needles of mountain pine beetle destruction. Newly attacked lodge pole pine trees turn red about one year after infestation.

Beetle relief a reality

Private landowners and municipalities across Alberta are being offered help to replace trees lost to the mountain pine beetle over the summer.

The ReLeaf program, which is being offered jointly by Alberta Sustainable Resources Development (SRD), is offering $100,000 for those affected across Alberta with the help of sponsorship from Telus and Strive Energy.

Those who have damage due to the pine beetle can apply for relief for replacement through www.treecanada.ca or 1-877-390-TREE.