Wood Rush: the demand for bio-fuel needs to be handled correctly

WHO IS managing British Columbia’s forests?

On a return trip from Vancouver in mid-April my wife and I talked about the state of our forests and the communities that were once dependent upon them. Many smaller hamlets and villages from Yale to Terrace showed serious signs of decay as a result of the poor forest economy, some from a declining tourism industry others because of a change in agriculture production. It was strange passing so many old and familiar landmarks, cafes, motels, and other businesses closed or boarded up. In contrast very little of the natural landscapes have changed in the Fraser and Thompson River canyons. Few logging clear cuts were seen and both river environments were spectacular.

It was depressing seeing the beetle killed pine along Highways 97 and 16 and visualizing the area affected being replaced by large clear cuts.

We need a new vision to manage B.C.’s forests

The last time there was a broad public dialogue on forest policy in B.C. was during the Pearse Royal Commission in 1976.

Since that time, we have experienced an unprecedented mountain pine beetle epidemic, the Kelowna and Lillooet firestorms, the War of the Woods in Clayoquot Sound, and a decline in the traditional forest products sector. It is time for rural and urban communities, first nations, professionals, conservationists, recreationists and resource users to work toward a vision that will sustain B.C.’s forests as a source of wonder, pride and economic well-being for future generations.

The public owns more than 90 per cent of B.C.’s forests. These forests are an endowment that has supported generations of British Columbians, including first nations since time immemorial. During the settlement period, traditional burning practices were replaced by commercial timber harvesting. Instead of letting wildfires burn and rejuvenate the forest, the Forest Service put them out as quickly as possible.


Life Connected

Cross Homestake Pass on I-90, or hike into Beehive Basin north of Big Sky, and you’ll see a predominance of dead trees, their needles a vivid coppery color. Mountain pine beetles, the cause of much of this mortality, are native to the Rocky Mountains, and are part of lodgepole pine forests’ natural life cycle. Historically, the beetles have also affected ponderosa, sugar, and western white pines, and two 20th century beetle epidemics killed whitebark pines. All of these species recovered.

Since 2000 however, scientists from Colorado to British Columbia have recorded a significant rise in beetlekilled whitebark pine, in subalpine ecosystems. While the percentage of forest death varies between ranges, this epidemic, combined with the invasive white pine blister rust, has caused unprecedented mortality.

“While, historically, climatic conditions in high elevation whitebark pine habitats have prevented sustained mountain pine beetle outbreaks, today anthropogenic global warming appears to be allowing outbreak populations to expand into these previously inhospitable areas,” according to a 2001 paper on by whitebark experts Jesse Logan and James Powell.


Bioenergy from Beetle-wood

Economic heartache and headache—that’s what mountain pine beetle (MPB) initially represented for the forest industry in Canada’s West. But beetle-killed wood also represents an avenue for governments and companies in British Columbia and Alberta to move forward with biomass energy projects. And if conditions change in Alberta, there could be a lot more going on in this arena in the future.

While beetle-killed wood bioenergy projects are booming in British Columbia (see the cover story of our January/February 2010 issue; www.canadianbiomassmagazine.ca/content/view/1555/), there are several reasons why there’s only a small amount of activity in Alberta at the present time. For one, the area of MPB infestation is much smaller in Alberta than in British Columbia, a fact everyone hopes will remain true going forward. In addition, bioenergy projects using beetle-killed wood in Alberta have yet to take off because it’s just so much farther to transport pellets or other forms of bioenergy to overseas markets than it is from British Columbia.

“Mountain pine beetle arrived about 10 years ago in the south of Alberta (south of Highway 1) and about 5 years ago in the north,” notes Duncan MacDonnell, a public affairs officer at Alberta’s Ministry of Sustainable Resource Development (SRD). The south also faced infestations in the 1940s and late 1970s. In west-central Alberta (the so-called “wood basket” of the province, where pine is very plentiful), the beetle arrived from the Prince George, British Columbia, area through wind-flight in 2006, and then again in 2009.


Is the Sawtooth a tinderbox? National recreations area faces fire threat of beetle-killed trees

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area is preparing for a possibly heightened fire season this year, due to an overabundance of dead trees.

Many consider the mountain pine beetle’s attack on SNRA forests to have crested. But while the beetles may be leaving, the trees they killed remain.

These dead trees are falling over. And according to recent research, they can ignite up to three times faster than the green needles on a healthy, living tree.

Mountain pine beetle activity may impact snow accumulation and melt, says CU-Boulder study

A new University of Colorado Boulder study indicates the infestation of trees by mountain pine beetles in the high country across the West could potentially trigger earlier snowmelt and increase water yields from snowpack that accumulates beneath affected trees.

Led by CU-Boulder geological sciences department doctoral student Evan Pugh, the study was undertaken near Grand Lake, Colo., adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park, an area that has been devastated by mountain pine beetle attacks in recent years. Mountain pine beetles have killed more than 4 million acres of lodgepole pine trees in Colorado and southern Wyoming since 1996, the most severe outbreak on record.

Pugh and his team monitored eight pairs of tree stands, each pair consisting of one live stand and one dead stand roughly an acre each in size and located adjacent to each other, sharing the same topography, elevation and slope. The team monitored the two distinct phases of pine beetle tree death during the three-year study -- the "red phase" in which dead trees still retained red needles, and the "gray phase" in which all of the tree needles and some small branches had been shed, said Pugh.