British Columbia pine beetles ran out of trees to infect
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) ” The mountain pine beetle epidemic in British Columbia is coming to a close, but only because the pests have run out of trees.
The voracious beetle has destroyed more than 33 million acres of lodgepole pine in the province ” an area more than four times the size of Vancouver Island.
While the beetle continues its push east past the Rocky Mountains and into British Columbia’s southern interior, there is little left for it to survive on in the province’s central interior where it’s been thriving for decades.
“The pine beetle populations have moved on. The epidemic is fundamentally over,” said Doug Routledge, vice president of forestry with the Council of Forest Industries. “The pine stands in the core part of the province … have collapsed.”
The latest figures from the provincial government and the council estimate the beetle has consumed more than half of British Columbia’s marketable pine forest.
The beetles bore into the trees, lay eggs and attract mates. The insects then infect the tree with a fungus and the hatched larvae then feed off the fungus before the tree dies and they move on to another.
Routledge said the beetle’s rate of spread is slowing because the rice-sized bugs have to go to higher elevations to reach new trees, and two cold snaps in two years in the northeast have slowed their progress.
“Now that’s not to say they’re not still at epidemic levels. They are,” he said.
Routledge said the collapse of the industry will be hard on some forest-dependent communities, but new technology has extended the life of the beetle-killed wood and the province has many other species of trees to cut.
“While it does represent a significant impact to the province, of course we have other species out there, conifer species, that we can harvest.”
Routledge said new technology and harvesting techniques are extending the life and use of beetle-killed trees by several years.
However a high Canadian dollar, rising fuel prices and low demand from the U.S. housing market offers little incentive for companies to cut wood of questionable value.
“We’re facing a lot of negative factors in terms of trying to address the mountain pine beetle,” said Rick Publicover, executive director of the Central Interior Logging Association.
He said many association members are pinning their hopes in continuing work on bioenergy, which would see wood pellets made out of the dead wood to burn for heat and electricity.
Publicover said there could be two-decades worth of work just pulling dead wood out of the forest.
Joe Foy, of the environmental group Wilderness Committee, said studies show a dead forest creates less wetland if it’s left standing and is healthier than a cut block three decades later.
Foy is against using federal or provincial government money to subsidize a bioenergy industry for the trees.
“Even though it’s called green power, it still puts a hell of a lot of CO2 in the air. What they’re saying is we shouldn’t count the CO2 because it would have burned in a forest fire anyway,” he said.
Foy said those communities that will be hurt by the loss of their industry should get help just as though they were hit by a tsunami or bad storm. But workers there shouldn’t be paid to cut dead trees, he said.
“It seems kind of goofy to me,” he said of paying corporations to cut down dead trees when studies show the forest is better off being left alone.
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