Mountain Pine Beetle Fight Lasts All Year

Posted: November 29, 2012

Source: Daily Herald Tribune

Montana Pine beetle killed forestForest companies have spent tremendous resources redirecting their operations in order to limit the spread of mountain pine beetles. Their efforts are paying off, but there will be no rest during thewinter.

Weyerhaeuser and Canfor direct their clearcutting towards at-risk areas, after Sustainable Resources Development (SRD) has removed highly infected individual trees in remote locations to restrain spreading. In the last few years, SRD has seen a 50% reduction in beetle infestation year over year.

“(The strategy) has really done wonders in slowing the spread and making sure that we’re not in the same situation as B.C. is, where they’re significantly short of timber and their whole forest is under threat,” said Brock Mulligan from the Alberta Forest Products Association.

Forest companies around Grande Prairie have witnessed firsthand the devastation in B.C., where 60% of the pine forest is affected, and the government is expected to decrease the forest companies’ annual allowable cut, leading to a drastic decline in B.C. production.

Weyerhaeuser, Canfor, and others have an opportunity in Alberta to get ahead of the beetles.

“We’ve been aggressively harvesting pine, focused on pine, since 2007,” said Jim Stephenson, Canfor woodlands manager. “Hopefully that will remove sufficient food source that we won’t get any increase in infestation.”

The beetles’ love of older, larger pine trees in warmer areas, which typically grow together, makes it possible for forest companies to clearcut infected and at-risk tree stands.

Canfor’s forest management area consists of about 35% pine, but since 2007 the company has been harvesting 70-80% pine in an effort to gain control over the beetle population.

“Typically, there has been beetles in pretty much all of our stands,” said Stephenson. “The two focus points, then, (are): go where the beetles are, and go where they’re going to be.”

It will take Canfor nine to 10 years to complete the strategy.

Weyerhaeuser, on its part, has harvested more than 25,000 hectares of at-risk stands since 2006.

“In some cases, that may mean that we’re going to stands that are further away from the mills or our operations,” said Wayne Roznowsky, public affairs manager for Weyerhaeuser.

The government is sympathetic.

“We recognize that it’s a bit of a hardship for them, because they’ve had to adjust their harvest sequencing, which costs them money and planning,” said Duncan MacDonnell, communications manager for SRD. “And in some cases, they’ve had to build roads into areas where they may not have wanted to go into for another 10-15 years. And those are costs that they bear directly, so more power to them for playing their part in this fight.”

Because of the many eggs that the beetles lay, 97.5% of the current beetle population has to be killed during the winter in a rapid cold snap, in order to maintain the population level for next year. This hasn’t happened lately, which means more beetles are hatched every year, but all the partners have become better at controlling them.

Last week’s snowfall was exactly what the beetles hope for: just cold enough that they develop their natural antifreeze, under cover of a soft snowy insulating blanket.

“What you really want, in about a month’s time, is that minus 40 for about 24 hours. If we don’t get that, what we hope for are extreme temperature fluctuations,” said MacDonnell. “If we don’t have a cold winter, it could go back to the way it was again.”

Before the beetle invasion, only 30% of Canfor’s harvest was pine. The recent serious decline in spruce harvesting has not significantly affected the company’s sales, according to Stephenson. But logs that have noticeable pine beetle damage, which bruises the wood, can’t be sold to top markets, like Japan, where customers prefer immaculate lumber.

With fewer quality logs coming in, Canfor has tightened its belt and taken steps to improve its recovery of sellable wood, including shifting to shorewood harvesting, investing in a new planar mill, and purchasing a cogeneration plant.

Regeneration of destroyed areas will become an issue in the future. Weyerhaeuser has whole forest sections where the beetle got its way, such as near the Saddle Hills, and the dead trees can’t be sold. Clearing and reforesting such areas is extremely expensive, and brings no profit.

SRD has budgeted $10 million for regeneration, but has not yet allocated it to specific areas. It is also considering burning some areas out.

The fight against the beetle is priceless for the Grande Prairie region.

“We’re very early in the infestation cycle here, and so far we’ve been able to keep those clumps relatively small and isolated,” said MacDonnell. “So that we have semi-intact forest landscapes. We haven’t lost an entire watershed.”