It could be a beetles’ comeback with few fans applauding, say those overseeing Alberta’s forests.
Another warm winter could boost the number and spread of Mountain Pine Beetles that have ravaged the province’s pine woodlands and are creeping towards Saskatchewan, said Alberta Agriculture and Forestry official Erica Samis.
“There could be — a low winter mortality means more beetles coming out of the trees in summer and taking more trees,” said Samis, the ministry’s director of forest health and adaptation.
While that potential is definitely there, forestry officials won’t know for certain until a count on pine beetle populations is conducted in May, she said.
But Samis said she and her colleagues are nervously following the dubious progress of the pine beetles — that have destroyed billions of dollars worth of timber in western Canada.
The insects took quantum leaps on their march in 2006 and 2009, vaulting past the Rockies into north-central Alberta’s Boreal Forest with beetles “active” just east of Slave Lake, said Samis.
“Saskatchewan is extremely concerned and we’ve been working cooperatively with them to do some additional control…the beetle is a national issue,” she said.
Saskatchewan has recently added $1.2 million into the fight, added Samis.
One hope is that recent warm temperatures will cause the beetles to shed a sort of antifreeze, rendering them vulnerable to a late deep-freeze, she said.
But meteorologists have forecast continued warmer-than-normal conditions right into spring.
A dry spring could also add to trees’ stress, making them further vulnerable to the beetles, said Samis.
The closest the pests have come to Calgary is the infection of a few hundred lodgepole pines in the Bow Valley near Canmore, said Samis.
“We’re always concerned about the eastern slopes and what can happen there, to lose a significant amount of pine in the watersheds could negatively impact them,” she said.
But for now, mainly cutting and burning affected trees has held them at bay in the mountains, said Samis.
“Where we take action is having an effect,” she said.