Saskatachewan monitoring pine beetle spread

After devastating pine forests in British Columbia and blowing into central Alberta, the question now is how far east will the mountain pine beetle spread?

Dr. Rory McIntosh, forest entomologist and pathologist with the forest service branch of Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Environment in Prince Albert, is watching the infestation in the neighbouring province of Alberta very closely.

"It’s just probing into the boreal forest in a hybrid zone of lodgepole and jack pine, in north central Alberta," said McIntosh.

Aggressive strategy helping to stop pine beetle

It's been almost 10 years since the Mountain Pine Beetle arrived in Alberta and began killing pine trees across the western part of the province.

But Brad Jones, a forest health officer for the Southern Rockies Area who has been on the front lines of the fight to prevent the beetle's spread, said the province's aggressive strategy to stop the infestation's spread is working in Southern Alberta.

"The beetle populations are down, there's been a huge decrease," Jones said. "It seems like 99 per cent down. Last year it just completely plummeted, it was amazing really."


Canadian company to acquire Colorado’s Confluence Energy

Vancouver, British Columbia-based Viridis Energy Inc. is on the verge of more than doubling its pellet production capacity and expanding its distribution reach, having entered into a letter of intent to acquire 100 percent of the outstanding shares of Colorado-based Confluence Energy.

Confluence currently has a production capacity of 80,000 tons, but that is expandable to 125,000 tons, according to Viridis. Confluence manufactures wood pellets utilizing pine beetle killed wood, which Viridis said is consistent with its company vision, and supplies several large retail customers. The mountain pine beetle infestation is predominately focused on western North America, from Mexico to British Columbia, where an estimated 29 million acres are threatened, according to Viridis. In Colorado and Wyoming alone, mountain pine beetles are responsible for the destruction of an estimated 2 million acres.

The acquisition will expand the distribution reach of Viridis to both the U.S. East and West Coasts, providing more efficient access to ports that serve international markets, said company CEO Chris Robertson. “Our mission is to aggressively expand our operations and achieve scale,” he said. “We are in the midst of growing our business geographically as well as entering into new markets. The demand for clean, inexpensive alternative fuel is growing rapidly. ” The transaction is expected to close during the first half of this year.

Nexterra technology converts wood to heat UNBC

The University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) has just opened its new bioenergy plant, which will heat campus buildings using Vancouver-based Nexterra Systems Corp.’s biomass gasification technology.

The plant will use Nexterra’s technology to convert wood waste products such as bark, branches, sawdust, leftover wood from nearby mills and pine-beetle-killed wood into a synthetic gas – syngas – which burns as clean as natural gas for one-third the cost, according to Nexterra president and CEO Jonathan Rhone.

“The difference between what [people are] paying for natural gas and the lower cost of fuel is really what drives the economics for these projects,” he said.


Province wages war against Mountain Pine Beetle

Ten years after the Mountain Pine Beetle first arrived in Alberta, the government continues to battle against the destructive bug.

The beetles burrow into the bark of pine trees, feeding off of them and laying their eggs. The trees respond to the attack by increasing their output of resin to kill the bugs, but the beetles have a blue staining fungi that blocks the resin. The fungi can kill the trees within a few weeks once established.

Long periods of cold can help kill the beetle, but the Alberta government is not relying on the weather to end the outbreak.


No time to waste for fuel alternatives

It's no secret that British Columbia is currently in the thralls of one of the largest recorded mountain pine beetle outbreaks in north America, which has infested and killed about half British Columbia's commercial pine forests.

But for some,the outbreak has a silver lining.

"If you were to take two-tenths of one percent (of the infested wood) per year, that would be enough to meet the five percent renewable fuel standard for B.C." says Ross MacLachlan, president and CEO of Lignol Biofuel.


Massive fireguard proposed for Prince George

Officials in Prince George, B.C., are proposing to turn a large swath of forest surrounding the central Interior city into farmland in order to create a massive fireguard.

The city's environment manager Dan Adamson says the plan calls for 38,000 hectares — an area about 90 times the size of Vancouver's Stanley Park — to be logged to create the massive firebreak.

It's the first time officials in B.C. have tried to integrate wildfire management with agricultural expansion. The proposal has been dubbed the community forest expansion; even through it will reduce the amount of forest when it is done.


Beetles put lodgepole in lasting decline, study says

With all the trees that have fallen victim to the mountain pine beetle during the past decade in Northern Colorado, a study showing the lodgepole pine is now in a state of permanent decline here due to climate change may not come as a shock.

The study, conducted by forestry scientists Nicholas Coops at the University of British Columbia and Richard Waring at Oregon State University, was published in February in the journal "Climatic Change."

Waring and Coops conclude that the lodgepole pine, one the most dominant and beetle-stricken pine species in the Northern Colorado mountains, will be able to survive in only 17 percent of its current range from Canada to Colorado by 2080.


Global warming: Lodgepole pine may be down — and out

Lodgepole pines may not only be down from the pinebeetle epidemic, it may be out, thanks to global warming, which is rapidly shrinking suitable habitat for the iconic Western tree.

The hardy pine, which thrives in harsh mountain climates, may disappear from most of the Pacific Northwest by 2080 and is likely to survive in only 17 percent of it current range in the West, according to new research by scientists from the College of Forestry at Oregon State University and the Department of Forest Resource Management at the University of British Columbia.

The study, just published in the journal Climatic Change, was based on an analysis of 12,600 sites across a broad geographic range, where warming temperatures, less winter precipitation, earlier loss of snowpack and more summer drought already appear to be affecting the range of lodgepole pine, at the same time increasing the infestations of bark beetles that attack this tree species.