A spruce budworm outbreak in Quebec could kill off trees spanning an area the size of New Brunswick in the next few years and fuel more forest fires, according to Natural Resources Canada.

Yan Boulanger, a research scientist with the Laurentian Forestry Centre, said the impact of the budworm is most severe on Quebec’s North Shore, followed by the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and Gaspesie regions.

He added that the budworm has also been seen in New Brunswick.

“That’s the fear, that it will spread to New Brunswick and the Acadian forest,” Boulanger said.

According to forest insect ecologist, Dr. Deepa Pureswaran, a spruce budworm outbreak will eat away at the tops of trees and make them turn brown in about three years, killing the tree in five.

“The larvae feed on the current year’s needles so the trees don’t get to grow that year. Defoliation over several years kills the tree,” Pureswaran said.

Outbreaks happen about every thirty years with the last one peaking in 1975, according to Pureswaran.

Boulanger said that global warming has made the climate “more favourable than in the ’70s” for the budworm in areas that are further north than where it normally feeds.

In 2015 more than 63,000 square kilometres were affected by the spruce budworm.

According to Natural Resources Canada, the dead and damaged trees left in the budworm’s wake are more susceptible to forest fires — and the forestry industry can’t use the impacted wood.

It’s led researchers in Quebec to suggest ways this wood can be used.

According to Évelyne Thiffault, an assistant professor with the department of wood sciences and forestry at the University of Laval, the impacted wood has different chemical properties because of the mushrooms which grow on it.

“The mushrooms decompose certain elements of the wood and concentrate others,” Thiffault told Radio-Canada.

“In changing the wood’s pH, it becomes valuable for emerging industries like bioenergy, biofuels, bioethanol, biodiesel or even new products such as polymers which could replace plastic.”