December 19th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 51
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The pest in the Crowsnest Pass forest
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Herald Contributor Photo
The field of dead, red trees are a potential result of damage from uncontrolled mountain pine beetle (inset) populations.
ANNA KROUPINA
Pass Herald Reporter
About the size of a grain of rice, the mountain pine beetle is a tiny insect that poses a mighty threat to forests in Western Canada, including those close to home.

At the beginning of December, an operation was carried out in the McGillivray area to clear 173 pine trees infected with mountain pine beetles. Surveying was conducted in the Crowsnest Pass area to determine the infestation levels of mountain pine beetle this summer and fall. From that surveying, they found these infected trees which required control and on November 30, 2018, crews entered the area and successfully cut and burned all infected trees to limit the future spread of the beetles.

While some residents are concerned that crews are killing trees, Louis Price, Forest Health Technician with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, says that once the beetles are in the trees, the trees are already as good as dead.

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry refers to the mountain pine beetle as “the most destructive pest of mature pine forests in North America” and states that it poses a serious threat to Alberta's forests, particularly the lodgepole pine because of its abundance in the province and in western Canada.

"They cause significant and substantial tree mortality of lodgepole pine and that can have significant negative effects on social, economic and environmental factors," says Price.

These small bark beetles kill all types of pine trees by clogging and destroying the conductive tissue of the tree by introducing a blue-stain fungus when attacking the tree. Its larvae also feed on the phloem of the tree. These actions together can kill the tree within one month of the attack.
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“The beetle detects trees that are more stressed than others, as it will have better odds of survival in a more stressed tree that is less able to defend itself. A stressed tree will typically emit pheromones that attract the beetle,” says Price. “It lands on the tree, burrows into the phloem just underneath the bark and once it’s under there, it infects the tree with blue-stain fungus that it carries in little pouches near its mandibles. The fungus will plug up the xylem and the phloem tubes in the tree, which are the tree’s method of transporting water up and down the tree. Once this fungus plugs up all those microscopic tubes that allow the tree to live, it essentially starts to die very quickly within a few months in the spring and early summer when it’s trying to get its first drinks of water from the long winter of being frozen.”

The mountain pine beetle is a natural part of the ecosystem but in the last couple of decades, climate change has been a large contributing factor to creating favourable conditions for the mountain pine beetle by increasing the available habitat of mature and over mature lodgepole pine trees.

“The favourable weather conditions have made it a little bit easier for this critter population to increase. Typically, a very cold winter is able to kill off a number of the beetles underneath the bark where they overwinter as larvae and pupae, but warmer winters in recent years have allowed for an increased survival rate. This particular beetle, just because of its biology, is prone to population explosions in these favourable conditions. If they reach epidemic levels, they can become extremely difficult and expensive to control,” Price says.

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry conducts an annual areal patrol looking for red trees, a sign infestation the year prior. The area in question is then logged on GPS and crews return with boots on the ground to determine whether there are in fact mountain pine beetle present there.

The infestation in McGillivray of 173 trees is actually considered a manageable and small number, says Price, but Forestry operates on an early detection and rapid response mandate to identify the outbreak quickly and control it aggressively.
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“We do surveys in order to detect them early. Hopefully with detection and control every year, we can keep them at bay from exploding in population,” says Price.

Most regions in Alberta are currently not experiencing a significant outbreak, with the exception of the area around Hinton. There has been a significant population explosion in the Jasper National Park area and those beetles have been moving eastwards into the Hinton area.

“That’s a significant problem that we’re working hard to mitigate and put significant efforts into the leading edge of that movement to the east. That's Alberta's primary focus as far as the beetle goes,” says Price.

Resident reports are invaluable in identifying infected areas. There are some visible, telltale signs that property owners or people out recreating or hunting can use to identify the mountain pine beetle and notify their local forestry department.

"The tree tries to use its sap to push the beetle back out of the hole that it’s made in the tree, so little pockets of sap form on the outside of the tree,” says Price. “Any intel in that regard is most helpful."
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December 19th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 51
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