Signs of a fir bark beetle outbreak are emerging in a forested area within city limits.
About 200 trees at the Otway Nordic Centre are showing the telltale reddish-brown dust that marks the boring holes the insects leave as chew their way into the tree.
Runners and cyclists are being asked to keep their eyes out for any more.
According to signs posted at Otway, six of the trees on the Java single track between the Sawmill east and Upper Hickory Wing ski trails will have to be cut down and burned this winter and have been marked with “pest management” flagging tape.
John Huybers, who is both the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club vice president and the Prince George district manager for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said the insect has always been at Otway – let alone Pidherny, UNBC and anywhere else there are fir trees.
He said aerial surveys are currently being conducted and over the winter officials will work out a plan for dealing with the bug before it takes flight next spring. Logging is an option but so are forms of trapping the bug and using anti-pheromones to repel it.
“We’re not suggesting there’s a panic situation at all,” Huybers said. “We’re just saying these are high-value recreation areas and [want to see] if there are some low-cost actions we can put in place to try to minimize the spread.
“And people are predicting the population should collapse naturally but these outbreaks have gotten a little out of control when it comes to the mountain pine beetle and the spruce bark beetle and people suggest one of the key things is climate change as one of the drivers.”
Huybers said the insect tends to be less aggressive than the mountain pine beetle and the spruce beetle, “which is a good thing.”
According to MFLRNO information, the insects tend to target felled, damaged and drought-stressed trees that lack the water to produce the pitch they use to “flush out” the bugs. The recent series of dry summers and winters has made it more challenging for the trees, Huybers said, particularly in the drier sites like Otway.
The fir bark beetles produce one generation per year, with most of the newly-emerged adults taking flight in May or June and the rest in late summer. The females chew through the outer bark into the inner bark, build an “egg gallery” and, after mating, deposit 10-36 eggs in small notches on both sides of the egg gallery.
The larvae hatch in about two weeks and over the next two to three months grow into young adults who stay in the trees for the winter before boring a hole in the bark to leave the tree and take flight as a new generation.