MPB 2013 Year in Review

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 its 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 than 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 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.

Sources:

The Official Biggest Losers of 2013 – Huffpost

UNBC continues to tap into pine beetle funding