Trees killed by the mountain pine beetle epidemic are impossible to miss. Pine beetles attack by tunnelling into the bark to lay their eggs and develop their larvae, which feed off the tree’s inner bark layers (known as phloem) and cut off the flow of nutrients that sustain the tree. As a result, the pine needles change from green to a signature red, followed by the loss of the needles, leaving grey and barren branches of a dead tree behind.
Our BC operations have been battling the mountain pine beetle for decades. An explosion of the pest has impacted over 18 million hectares of BC provincial forest since 2000. A slow reaction to the epidemic resulted in an outbreak that is projected to kill 57% of BC’s sellable timber by 2021.
BC ended up taking drastic measures to deal with the beetle in the later 2000s, dramatically ramping up harvesting of dead wood. While the spread of the beetle has finally slowed in BC, these hungry bugs have flown elsewhere to find a home in Alberta.
In 2006, the beetles moved east to Alberta, and without enough effective control to stop them, extensive pine beetle populations now infest the pine forests of Jasper National Park. The park is only 27 kilometres from our operations in Hinton, Alberta and even closer to our managed forest area. Hinton is now in the same situation that Quesnel was 20 years ago.
To combat the beetle, Hinton is taking advice from the experience of our BC operations, as well as, working with the Alberta government to strategize where we need to harvest to address the infestation.
As our operations are very close to Jasper National Park, Hinton’s woods team is acting quickly within our operating boundaries to work to halt the beetles’ progress. Harvesting the beetle at the ‘green attack’ phase is the best course of action. If we can harvest the logs while the beetles are still in the tree, we can reduce some of the population. To do this, we work with many logging contractors in different parts of our Forest Management Area (FMA), to harvest and mill those infested trees.
Our Hinton FMA is made up of 70% pine trees, which represents a substantial risk. The government and West Fraser are surveying the land to find pine stands that are being infested by the highest concentrations of beetles. Then, after proper surveying to detect the highest levels of beetles, cut block layout, and government-approved forest harvest plans are drawn up. We are currently avoiding the harvest of spruce and fir trees because the beetle doesn’t attack those tree types. Right now, our main priority is to harvest pine trees that show signs of beetle infestation to manage the potential of what a severe mountain pine beetle invasion can bring.
To help with the mountain pine beetle strategy, our operations in Blue Ridge and Edson are also taking on some of the beetle-attacked wood through their mills.
With Hinton being in the early stages of beetle attack, West Fraser is taking the lessons we learned in BC to ensure we maintain healthy forests in Alberta. Harvest planning is underway for the most infested forest stands, some of which are close to urban areas we wouldn’t regularly prioritize for harvesting.
We appreciate the support of the Hinton community while we take this aggressive approach to remove beetle-attacked trees. We will replant young trees in place of those we harvest to regrow a healthy forest in place of the beetle-damaged timber. By being on top of this, we aim to decrease fire risk to the community from dead standing wood, and plant young trees to replace them to ensure we have healthy forests for generations to come.