Archive for the ‘British Columbia’ category

MPB 2013 Year in Review

January 16th, 2014

The Huffington Post listed pine trees as one of the biggest losers of 2013,

“Pine Trees — Warmer weather allowed the mountain pine beetle to continue to gorge itself on Western forests. It’s just one of the many plagues that climate change is visiting upon the globe.”

2013 appeared to be a light year overall for mountain pine beetle mostly because all the target pine trees in Colorado and British Columbia are already dead. However, temperatures were colder in the High Rockies in winter 2013 so that may have been a temporary reprieve.

The Bitterroot Mountains in Montana and The Black Hills in South Dakota were two exceptions, with MPB continuing to pound pine forests in 2013.  Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado also continued to see heavy activity especially along the northern edges of the park.

Eastward Canadian Expansion

The biggest emerging issue for MPB is it’s gradual expansion into the North American boreal forests in Alberta and Ontario. While central BC is treated as already happening, the Canadian research and timber organizations earmarked $4 million in 2013 to continue to map the beetle’s genome. Pine tree genomes and the blue stain fungus are also genomes that have been mapped. The goal is to see how beetles handle extreme cold while overwintering.

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The boreal forest is a band of pine, spruce and evergreen trees that circle the Norther Hemisphere. MPB is not native to these forests so botanists and entymologists fret that it will be a feeding frenzy if they are established. The boreal is a major source of oxygen for the planet, second only to the rainforests  and a significant MPB could move through all of it.

Wildfire and Beetle Kill

Whether beetle killed pine trees contribute to more forest fires is not as intuitive as it appears. Even if the pine beetle didn’t exist, warmer temperatures would dry out forests causing larger fires. The tinder left over from years of putting out forest fires also would exist.

The flammable sap in mature, green pine forests feeds more intense crown fires then dead pine trees. And it is more explosive. Juniper shrubs and trees are especially flammable and are not recommended to be too close to a home located in areas with high forest fire risk.

Of course, mountain pine beetle does exist and certainly creates more tinder on the forest floor. The bigger issue is the general drought in the West.  Mountain pine beetle is native to Colorado and can live in equilibrium with pine forests. It’s the dry conditions caused by warmer winters which causes mountain pine beetle to explode.

Residential Pine Tree Owners Should Keep Up Treatments

Even with pine beetle easing up in forests, it is still a threat to urban and suburban tree owners. It is recommended to keep treating high-profile pine trees, keep them watered as rising temperatures make them more prone to drought and fertilize if the tree needs extra nutrients.


The Official Biggest Losers of 2013 – Huffpost

UNBC continues to tap into pine beetle funding

The Wake of the Beetle

December 13th, 2012

by Matt Johnson – December 13th , 2012.

Chapter 5 of Empire of the Beetle is mostly a recap of how stupid we are in trying to control this slow moving tsunami which is the bark beetle epidemic. The inevitable
fallout for mill towns, built on a mono-economy and a mono-culture (lodgepoles), is predictable.

Ghost Forest further explores what I feel is an even greater threat then the loss of the lodgepole forest which is the loss of the five-needled whitebark pines, a keystone species of western forests that protects the ecosystem along the Continental Divide. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem worsens even more quickly for whitebark then Nikiforuk predicted a scant two years ago.

MPB’s assault on sub-alpine whitebark pines is dramatic because it kills “rare 800 year-old elders, not 100 year veterans (trees).”

Whitebark grow where most pine and spruce can’t. They also store more carbon then a lodgepole pine.

Quoting Chapter 6,

“The generous tree glues together the alpine world…for thousands of years the Lillooet, Blackfoot, Shuswap, Kootenay and shoshone harvested the (whitebark) pines large, high-energy seeds.”

Luckily there is some happy news when analyzing the Song of the Beetle. The story of avant-garde musician turned beetle researcher David Dunn uses high quality microphones to record the clicking sounds of the ips beetle initially. Nikiforuk organizes his book well in that each chapter focuses on a particualr bark beetle and a particular forest.

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In the Song of the Beetle chapter, the pinyon pine takes center stage in the scrubby pinyon and juniper forests of New Mexico. The scene is the desolate Sangre De Cristo mountains outside Sante Fe, N.M.

Ips confusus has alighted in a fury on these forests since 2003. However, Dunn and colleagues discover and demonstrate that, a bark beetle is confused by digital recordings of its own song perhaps leading to the type of advanced interdisciplinary solutions that the bark beetle problems require.

Conclusion: Overall I highly recommend this book as the most readable account of specifically the bark beetle and more broadly a moving account of small things that are causing big problems.

Lodge Pole Tsunami

December 3rd, 2012

Picture links to Science News Coverage of Bark Beetles

Empire of the Beetle becomes suspenseful as entymologists, politcos and timber barons see if the MPB, the short name for mountain pine beetle,  will jump to the boreal forest’s of Alberta.

With no known mountain pine beetle infestations, conifers in the boreal do not have resistance to MPB.   Resin development is crucial for a pine tree to survive.  Lodgepoles produce terpenes, natural chemicals that were used to make turpentine, to give off an unwelcoming scent.

This chapter of Empire of the Beetle, has this  nugget,

“British Columbia’s lodgepole forests being so ancient and ubiquitous,  most aboriginal groups have bark beetle stories.”

and continues later,

” Over the last hundred years, average minimum temperature in central BC have increased by nearly six degrees on the Fahrenheit scale.”

Researcher Allan Carroll mined data to discover that in BC, the last  -40 degree winter day had not occurred since the 1980’s and beetle habitat had shifted north over the past thirty years, according to the book

The human element comes in as timber companies were given incentive through higher levels of allowable cut so companies could salvage dead beetle kill.  This “one time opportunity to capture the economic value made hauling green beetle kill all over the province,” economically viable. But it also helped spread the beetle.

Government sold beetle kill for 25 cents per tree. It had been twenty five dollars per tree.

Scientific Forestry Comes to the Fore

German forests were the first test plot for planned and managed forests. the grand goal of eradicating bark beetle starts early, with Johann Friedrich Gmelin who wrote in 1787,

“No pests have ever done so much harm to the woodlands as the bark beetle.”

Spruce beetle (ips typographus) were the main bark beetle targeted in the German forests.

German foresters tried to

  • smoke beetles with sulfur
  • electrify beetles

But extensive logging became the chosen option. They quickly learned that clear cutting and setting trap trees, piles of 50 to 100 spruce trees placed in five or so different piles to attract the beetles, only created more wind blown trees which are the natural nursery for spruce bark beetles.

Read the final post in this review called Wake of the Beetle

Empire of the Beetle – Book Review

December 3rd, 2012

Empire of the beetle book cover

Empire of the Beetle

How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug Are Killing North America’s Great Forests

Published by Greystone Books, 2011

Reviewed by Matt Johnson – December 3rd, 2012.

Some books are so good, they make me wonder why I’m trying to write my own popular tree care articles.  If there is an action packed arborist book, Empire of the Beetle by Andrew Nikiforuk, is it.  I’m only through the first chapter and already the spruce beetle has decimated the boreal forest in Alaska and the Yukon.  Lives are lost, communities uprooted but the mystery remains. (editor notes – I finished the book , see at the end for updates)

Why are twenty-first-century bark beetles so aggressive and destructive?  Empire of the Beetle paints an obsessive portrait of entymologists trying to answer that question. In describing Stephen L. Wood, the author of the bible on bark beetles and longtime professor at Brigham Young University, Nikiforuk writes

“Wood left behind a collection of 80,000 bark beetles carefully pinned to the bases of 181 specimen drawers for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. (Beetle experts tend to be a bit obsessive)”

But the part about Diana Six of the University of Montana is really interesting especially her research on yeasts.   Nikiforuk writes about her research into the co dependent nature of bark beetles and fungi. It also dispels the blue stain fungi as tree killer myth.

Bark beetles carry scores of:
  • fungi
  • mites
  • ticks
  • yeasts
  • nematodes and bacteria.

The chapter clearly explains the symbiotic relationship with the beetle and beneficial fungi.

“The spruce bark beetle (dendroctonus rufipennis) for example, up to 10 different species of fungi,” writes Nikiforuk.

The beetle stores different types of fungi to prepare for either a warm or cold winter. You’ll have to get Empire of the Beetle from your library or check out Amazon for details.

Updated 12/3/2012:

The whole book was clearly written.

The appearance of dendroctonus ponderosae aka mountain pine beetle is where the real sap-shed gets going.

Read the rest of my review atLodgepole Tsunami

Northeast Washington 2012 Beetle Hotspots

August 16th, 2012

Northeast Washington - MPB In Gree

Spokane, Wash.  Source  Forest Service

Widespread forest decline fueling pine beetle spread

October 17th, 2011

Colorado losing 15% of its aspen due to drought. Some of the worst wildfires on record burning millions of acres in Texas. The Euphorbia trees of southern Africa succumbing to heat and water stress.

All of these are real-world examples of rapid tree decline. For homeowners in pine beetle infested areas it is effecting industry and jobs, property values and even the power of local government to enforce tree preservation.

According to an October 1st article in the New York Times, dozens of tree habitats showing signs of accelerated stress and massive degradation.

Scientists are struggling to predict how serious large-scale forest decline may become. What is at stake is the timetable of climate change. This timetable is what drive policy for infrastructure changes and clean energy adoption.

The current consensus is that we can wait until midcentury, gradually phasing in cleaner energies to reduce emissions. Scientists also believe that by then, man made carbon control solutions will be feasible.

However accelerated forest decline would jeopardize that time table for one main reason. Trees are one of two main long term storage depots for stored carbon, the ocean being the second. Upset that fragile balance, could we create a tipping point from which we can’t return.

Trees serve to store carbon dioxide through the creation of wood and leaves. The inner bark layers effectively hold the carbon dioxide until the tree dies or is cut down.

While other plants may absorb carbon dioxide, most of it is returned to the atmosphere through decaying, burning or be eaten. Scientists estimate that during the northern hemisphere growing season 120 billion tons of carbon are inhaled from atmosphere. They exhale nearly the same amount.

However that can change in a heartbeat. Uncontrolled forest fires like the ones we’ve seen in Arizona this year not only burn trees but create huge carbon dioxide release events.

This contributes to further warming of the Earth as a whole, but may be felt sooner within a microclimate, say a national forest. In British Columbia and other pine beetle effected areas, mountain pine beetle attack has changed local weather patterns.

Even with recent insect epidemics, trees are still packing in a billion tons of carbon into long-term storage every year. Another unexpected finding is that forests appear to be growing more vigorously, even old-growth mature forests.

This development has overturned decades “ecological dogma.”

Studies by Harvard University have discovered that every forest has a carbon flux which is the amount of carbon dioxide that is being inhaled and exhaled. They have isolated variances throughout the day.

As we know more about the respiration process of trees we may be able to find ways to complement it.

Scientists skeptical of human influence on climate believe that these trends may represent a greening of the earth over the next 50 years not a large-scale degradation. As the Earth warms more trees will grow bigger and absorb more carbon.
After all, after clear cutting by early settlers, Eastern US forests are regrowing and recovering forest is an important carbon sponge.

However as the Earth warms it also helps many of their natural insect predators survive longer as well.

The mountain pine beetle’s natural predator is the cold. Temperatures of -40° Fahrenheit in the Canadian and US Rockies used to kill off large portions of the beetle population. However, over the past decade temperatures are just not reached that level on a consistent basis.

Furthermore warming may actually evaporate more water, especially in semi arid climates meaning the trees have less water to work with which could make the, them more vulnerable to insect and weather events.

As long as this trend continues, shuttered saw mills and declining tourist business is effecting communities and will continue to spread.

Alberta is not winning the beetle war

February 21st, 2011

Published February 3, 2011 by Jeff Gailus in Viewpoint

War often breeds propaganda. Whether it’s the Second World War, Vietnam or the Iraq War, even democratically elected governments try to manipulate the perceptions of their own countrymen. So it should come as no surprise that Alberta’s self-declared war against the pine beetle has spawned some less-than-accurate claims justifying what amounts to forest industry subsidies running in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Last month, the Globe and Mail ran a 1,500-word feature on the Alberta government’s one-sided war against the mountain pine beetle, a black insect the size of a rice kernel that has killed vast swaths of B.C.’s forests over the last 15 years. As is so often the case, it was the over-promising headline that caught my eye. Apparently, the bold print claimed, we are winning the battle of the beetle. The article claims that a combination of cold spells during the winter and Alberta’s $250-million investment in sanitizing our forests has kept the beetle at bay… Read more Alberta losing pine beetle war

Pine Beetle Activity – July 18, 2010

July 19th, 2010

Hartsel, CO – I was in the Colorado mountains at the Ranch of the Rockies this weekend.  Very little sign of mountain pine little activity.  Hartsel borders Pike and San Isabel national forests, forests not predicted to be a beetle  hotspot in 2010.  We treated  fifty high profile trees at the front entrance of the Ranch of the Rockies in early July because a pine had been hit.  I did see more  beetle hit trees along 285 in Evergreen, CO,  compared to last year, 2009.


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Deadwood, SD - Reports are that the beetle infestation is worse than 2009. Target areas for the USFS prevention strategy, dubbed the Nautilus Project, are in the Black Hills National Forest. Ninety percent of  Custer’s  Peak is dead, fueling fears of a Colorado-type epidemic.  Forest thinning will be aggressive is Nautilus is implemented. More about Black Hills beetle prevention.

Medicine Hat, Alberta – Mountain pine beetle died off in a spring cold snap, giving government officials, lumber workers and tourism boosters hope of a lessening population of beetle.  The numbers appear to be at 2007 levels with the exception of areas in northern Alberta and along the British Columbia border.  The prediction was based on sampling of 1,266 pine trees, from 229 infested sites.

Crowsnest Pass, Alberta – “Beetle survival was low and there is a ‘low probability of local beetle production and spread.  However, there is an extremely high probability of in-flights this summer,’  according to the Prairie Post. More about mountain pine beetle die off in Alberta.

Crowsnest Pass, Alberta

Beetle Activity Predicted to Lessen in Crownsnest Pass in Alberta do to spring cold snap.

Crystal Mountain, CO –  Along the ridges, it is dry and trees are getting hit, turning red, and dying off according to arborist and consultant, Jeff Disler.  Crystal Mountain is in the Roosevelt National Forest,  Larimer County, CO above Fort Collins.

In the valleys, it’s a different story.  Pine stands are pulling water from plentiful standing water,  relieving stress. The stands, about evenly split between ponderosa and lodgepole pines seem better able to “kick out tubes”  or fight off a beetle invasion.   A pine with lighter yellow pitch tubes,  is typically less damaged by attack.

There is also engraver beetle activity at Crystal Mountain.