Insects destroying large stands of trees in Washington forests

Pests are killing vast numbers of trees in Washington and forest managers are working on a plan to fight back.

State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark said two ravenous insects are doing a lot of the damage, the Spruce Budworm and the Mountain Pine Bark Beetle.

"We've watched this happen in British Columbia," said Goldmark. "It decimated the forests up there, we have to be more proactive down here."


Global warming feeds bark beetles: Are they unstoppable?

Hear the sound of chewing out in our vast forests of lodgepole pine, spruce and fir, the chewing that’s already destroyed half the commercial timber in important regions like British Columbia? That’s the sound of climate change, says biologist Reese Halter. Global warming in the form of a bark beetle.

Halter’s short but disturbing new book, “The Insatiable Bark Beetle,” addresses one of the biggest and most visible issues facing global forests, and particularly the relatively large forests left in the U.S. and Canada. As winters grow warmer and summers drier, the West’s evergreen forests are being eaten alive. And the infestation is not showing any signs of slowing.

The most disturbing part? Halter puts the blame squarely on climate change, of which the infestations are not only a symptom but a cause – a feedback loop. “The beetles have taken a crucial terrestrial system that absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2) – what’s known in biological parlance as a ‘carbon sink’ – and turned it into a ‘carbon source,’” Halter writes. “Over the next decade, the beetle-killed BC forests will emit 250 million metric tons of CO2 – the equivalent of five years of car and light truck emissions in Canada.”


Let's do the beetle math

The current major epidemic of the native mountain pine beetle to the forests of western North America from Mexico to central British Columbia is ten times larger than previous outbreaks. Of course, the forest are ten times larger than they were then. The last reported major beetle epidemic in the Black Hills was in 1897 when Seth Bullock served as first forest supervisor. It was reported that 4,000,000 ponderosa pine trees were lost. This major epidemic may destroy 40-million pine trees or more.

What are we to do?

In January 2012, it was estimated that 10 percent of Lawrence County's pine forest was infested with beetles. That's 800,000 trees. At a minimum, each infested tree has 500 beetles. That's 400 million beetles. At about $25 per tree in cutting and administration cost, that's a whopping $20-million in eliminating the “current” beetle population from the county. However, this year, more millions of beetles will be flying into the county from other counties.

Last stand in B.C. beetle battle

As MLAs resumed their raucous legislature arguments over a municipal auditor-general, the B.C. government’s own watchdog cut through the noise with a devastating audit of the state of Crown forests.

Auditor General John Doyle’s survey of the province’s vast forest comes at a critical time. A team of forest ministry experts is examining the situation at Burns Lake, to see if the Babine Lake Forest Products sawmill can be rebuilt, after a tragic explosion and fire on Jan. 20.

Babine was one of a string of high-volume mills along Highway 16 in northwestern B.C. that have been working their way through the enormous stock of decaying pine that surrounds them. The “shelf life” of these trees is estimated to extend to 2019, but that’s a best-case scenario. In reality the expanse affected by pest and disease is much more complex.


Forestry industry calls for more study of forest conditions

Professional foresters holding their annual convention in Victoria have added their voices to concerns raised by B.C.'s auditor general about the state of the province's forests.

The Association of B.C. Forest Professionals released their latest report on forest inventory, and concurred with Auditor General John Doyle's report last week that knowledge of forest conditions has fallen behind in an era of rapid change.

"In recent years, the mountain pine beetle epidemic, as well as several severe fire seasons, has had tremendous impact on the forests," said Sharon Glover, CEO of the foresters' association. "Yet due to cutbacks, the scale of the provincial inventory program has been reduced."


Saanich-based forest researchers measure pine beetle’s threat to Canadian forests

The B.C. government doesn’t have enough information about its forest management to deal with the long-term results of widespread beetle kill and fires, B.C. Auditor General John Doyle concludes in a report released Feb. 16.

Doyle’s report also criticizes the province’s shift of responsibility for replanting logged Crown land from the ministry to logging companies.

Since 2004, logging companies have been responsible for replacement trees until they reach “free growing” height, which takes seven to 20 years depending on species. The audit found the policy tends to reduce species diversity.

Foresters say funding cuts leave timber inventories out of date

B.C. forest inventories are so far out of date that the foresters’ professional association is questioning whether provincial forestlands can still be managed sustainably.

A report by the Association of B.C. Forest Professionals released Monday says that at a time when wildfire and insect pests such as the mountain pine beetle are on the rise, funding for inventory work has been cut almost in half.

The beetle has created “the need for inventory updates on an unprecedented scale,” yet the budget for inventory work has been cut from a long-term average of $15 million a year to $8.4 million in the current fiscal year. The foresters are calling on the government to restore funding to $15 million.


Timber inventory a guessing game, critics charge

The B.C. government is not adequately keeping track of its inventory of timber lands, according to NDP Leader Adrian Dix. And that means the province is putting off some tough decisions, he says, on managing what’s left of pine-beetle-ravaged forests.

While the mountain pine beetle has been devastating millions of hectares of land earmarked for timber harvest, the government’s grasp on what is left of the forest resource is slipping.

A third of the government’s inventory of timber lands is at least 17 years out of date, the Ministry of Forests confirms. That makes it impossible to accurately establish the so-called falldown – the point at which mills in the B.C. Interior start to run out of logs after processing today’s pine-beetle-killed timber.


Province fails to protect, restore pine beetle-ravaged area: report

B.C. is ill-prepared to manage B.C’s beetle-ravaged forests as they slide into a long-term decline in both value and diversity, Auditor-General John Doyle said in a report released Thursday.

“We are already facing the fact that the value of the forest is going to be diminished as we go forward, and future generations are not going to have what we had,” Doyle said in an interview.

Reforestation is not keeping up with the growing inventory of land in need of restocking, he said.

BC Government Killing Forest Industry: Auditor General

British Columbia's Auditor General John Doyle released a report finding that the government has failed to plant enough trees to ensure a healthy forest industry in the future.

Worse, the government lacks reliable information on the state of the forest and has no plan for what to do about it, he said.

Various observers said Doyle's report confirmed what critics have said for years, but the minister responsible insisted the province has a plan and is doing the necessary inventory work.

B.C.'s efforts not enough to halt forestry declines

B.C. auditor general John Doyle said in a report released Thursday that the province is ill-prepared to manage the province's beetle-ravaged forests, which are heading toward a long-term decline in both value and diversity.

"We are already facing the fact that the value of the forest is going to be diminished as we go forward and future generations are not going to have what we had," Doyle said in an interview on the report.

The report notes the provincial ministry of forests, lands and natural resource operations is responsible for 22 million hectares of forestland with an estimated value of a quarter-trillion dollars, but it has no clear objectives on how to manage it.


BC failing to plant enough trees to sustain future timber supply

The British Columbia government has failed to sufficiently replant the forests it manages and needs to develop a plan, Auditor General John Doyle said in a report today.

"Significant areas of the forest are presently damaged by wildfire, diseases or pests such as mountain pine beetle, and the decision whether to replant lies with government," he said. "Unlike industry, government is not legally obligated to reforest. As such, very limited replanting has occurred."

The government is responsible for 90 percent of the 22 million hectares of forested land that are available for timber production and harvesting in the province, Doyle wrote.


Collapse and renewal

In less than 30 years, three massive bark beetle epidemics in the northwest have dramatically changed the North American landscape.

In the first Bow Valley Naturalists meeting of 2012, award-winning journalist Andrew Nikiforuk gave a presentation titled The Beetle Economy: A Modern Tale of Collapse and Renewal.

Nikiforuk explained that the only way to renew a forest is by allowing fire or allowing bark beetles. For years, humans practiced fire suppression, leaving much of our current forests aged. This, along with climate change, are some of the main reasons for these epidemics.


New Democrats Attack Bell's Tenure In Forests Ministry

The B.C. New Democrats are claiming the Forest Practices Board has confirmed that former forest minister Pat Bell has been grossly understating the true problems facing B.C.'s forests.

New Democrat forest critic Norm Macdonald said Bell needs to explainwhy his estimate of crown lands that have not been adequately replanted was less than 10 per cent of the total the Forest Practices Board revealed Thursday.

"Either the minister was badly misinformed or he was purposefully understating the problem facing our forests," said Macdonald. "The Liberal government has utterly abandoned B.C.'s forests. Treeplanting and silviculture work has been reduced even after cutting increased and at a time when fire and pests like the beetle are already taking their toll on the forests."


BC’s Chief Forester says pine beetle kill wasn’t as destructive as first feared

Jim Snetsinger, British Columbia’s Chief Forester, told a convention of the Western Silviculture Contractors’ Association this week that the historic mountain pine beetle infestation in interior B.C. wasn’t as destructive as first feared.

“In 2006, we were projecting a mountain pine beetle kill of 80 per cent of pine by 2013,” Jim Snetsinger said. “Our 2011 models . . . now tell us mountain pine beetle will kill about 61 per cent of susceptible pine by 2021.”

Unfortunately the news isn’t all good. Snetsinger said the mountain pine beetle continues to kill large numbers of lodgepole pine. More than half of merchantable pine in the Interior has been lost to date, even though the mortality peaked in 2004-05.


Pine beetle kill less than projected, says chief forester

B.C.'s chief forester painted a mountain pine beetle picture both good and bad Thursday for silviculturalists gathered in Kamloops.

The good news is the historic infestation that destroyed Interior pine stands through the middle of the last decade wasn't as destructive as first feared.

"In 2006, we were projecting a mountain pine beetle kill of 80 per cent of pine by 2013," Jim Snetsinger told a convention of the Western Silviculture Contractors' Association. "Our 2011 models . . . now tell us mountain pine beetle will kill about 61 per cent of susceptible pine by 2021."

Beetle battle

Provincial surveys for the mountain pine beetle will be extended for a few more months in Saskatchewan after a higher-than-expected number of infested trees were found in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park.

The first survey was done in September and pine forests in northwestern Saskatchewan and in Cypress Hills were surveyed for the forest pest and while no pine beetles were found in the northern boreal forest officials are working to closely monitor all pine forests.

The pine beetle survey is being conducted by Great Western Forestry Ltd. for the Saskatchewan government. The survey extension will cost up to an extra $100,000 bringing the total cost of the pine beetle surveillance to $300,000 this year.