CTV News — As the mountain pine beetle epidemic spreads in Alberta, the province is stepping up funding to fight the forest-devastating pest.

According to a report by CTV News, Forest Minister Devin Dreeshen announced a $5-million increase in the pine beetle management program, raising it from $25 million to $30 million through 2022-23.

“That’s to protect the $11-billion worth of forests that we have in the province of Alberta,” Dreeshen said in a statement.

The increased funding will pay for more monitoring, falling and burning of affected trees and areas surrounding them.

“If we don’t stop the spread of the pine beetle here in Alberta, we don’t stop it from decimating forests in the rest of Canada,” said Paul Whittaker of the Alberta Forest Products Association. “If we don’t stop it here, it goes all the way to Newfoundland.”

Pine beetle infestation has already decimated a massive swath of trees in Jasper National Park, creating a serious fire hazard. The infestation has since crept into Hinton, which Whittaker called the “front line” of the fight.

He and Dreeshen criticized the federal government for denying a previous request for $20 million over five years to help fight the mountain pine beetle.

They said they’ll be making the same request from the current Liberal minority government and are hoping for a positive response.

In a statement to CTV News Edmonton, Natural Resources Canada said it invested $11.7 million into mountain pine beetle-related research in Alberta between 2010 and 2018.

“NRCan currently has five full-time dedicated researchers to MPB, including one researcher focussed on MPB in Jasper National Park. NRCan scientific personnel continue to assist the province of Alberta in scientific monitoring and research, including a recently completed “Risk assessment of the threat of Mountain Pine Beetle to Canada’s boreal and eastern pine forests” published by the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers in June 2019,” the statement reads.

While the Jasper National Park infestation is declining, beetles are continuing to spread eastward and have been seen in Edmonton.

Last winter’s extreme cold was also welcomed by forestry experts who said plummeting temperatures can kill off mountain pine beetles.

“We really have an opportunity now to take advantage,” said Erica Samis, director of forest health and adaptation.

Once trees are attacked by pine beetles, they’re bound to die. Beetles overwinter inside trees and when they “wake up” in spring, they’re moisture deficient and begin to die, Samis said.

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