Alberta Trees Brace for More Pine Beetles

By: albertaarb - October 7, 2015

pine beetles infestation

In an annual survey, Alberta’s forests are beginning to show signs of drought after an extremely dry summer, and officials are bracing for an explosion in the pine beetle population, one of many symptoms of drought.

According to Erica Samis, manager of forest health and adaptation with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry:

“Drought has a variety of effects on the forests and obviously on the insect population... When a tree is drought stressed, it can’t withstand attacks. It’s a lot easier for the beetles that are attacking that tree to get in and also the defences, when the beetles are inside, are lower so the beetle has a much greater success in a tree that is stressed by drought.”

Samis believes that the beetles were almost absent in the southern parts of the province in recent years, but there’s still an active beetle population in areas up north such as Peace River and Grande Prairie.

Trees in Alberta

When the aerial surveys are completed, officials will know if that has changed this year, and will begin ground work to inspect the trees. Alberta’s recent pine beetle infestation began in southwestern Alberta in 2002 when the beetles were blown in by strong winds from British Columbia. In BC, pine beetles have destroyed more than 16 million of the 55 million hectares of forest. Alberta is currently using the fall and burn method to limit the spread of the beetles.

Although smaller than BC’s forests, Alberta’s forests are located at key areas for rivers and towns. If those forests are damaged, snow will melt faster, and the rivers will crest earlier, before summer and the dry season, when people and the ecosystem will need the water most.

Alberta Wildfires

Another effect of drought is, obviously enough, wildfires. In an interview, Mike Flannigan, professor with the department of renewable resources at the University of Alberta, stated that there has already been hundreds of wildfires throughout Western Canada. An estimated 6,484 fires have burned more than 3,820,000 hectares, approximately 172% more than normal, a massive increase from a 10-year average of 5,761.

Listing the problems, Flannigan said: “A forest can take a bit of insects or disease but then you put drought on top of that and the total is greater than the sum of the parts.” Increasing rates of climate change have led to hotter and drier years which in turn lead to drought, bugs and fire. As you can imagine, that’s a pretty lethal combination.

Want to Prevent Pine Beetle Infestation?

Pine beetle infestation can result in losses of millions of trees. Therefore, preventing or controling the infestation can save millions of trees. Natural controls of mountain pine beetle include woodpeckers and insects such as clerid beetles that feed on adults and larvae under the bark. However, during outbreaks these natural controls often fail to prevent additional attacks.

For more information on what you can do to prevent pine beetle infestation, or if you have any other tree questions, contact Alberta Arborists today.

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