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Mountain Pine Beetle and Provincial Protected Areas
Frequently Asked Questions


British Columbia is currently experiencing a mountain pine beetle epidemic throughout the range of lodgepole pine forests in the province. This epidemic is the result of a number of factors including natural beetle population cycles, continuous mild winters, and an abundance of uniformly mature pine forest stands.

The following set of questions addresses some of the more common inquiries regarding the management of mountain pine beetle in provincial protected areas. For more general information regarding the management of mountain pine beetle in the province, please visit the Ministry of Forests bark beetle web site or the Canadian Forest Service mountain pine beetle web site.

Below are common questions regarding the beetle and provincial protected areas:

Q. I have heard that the current beetle epidemic all started in Tweedsmuir Park. Is this true?
Q. Why weren't the beetles stopped when first discovered?
Q. Why do we have this epidemic and will the forests be destroyed?
Q. When will this epidemic end?
Q. What management options are there for mountain pine beetle in protected areas?
Q. Are beetle control treatments in parks effective?
Q. If this epidemic is a naturally occurring event, why is BC Parks trying to "manage" it?
Q. Will the effects of the mountain pine beetle harm the animals living in the forests?
Q. BC Parks advocates the use of prescribed fire. Doesn't fire damage the forests?
Q. Will logging and road building be allowed in infested stands in protected areas?
Q. I understand there are other bark beetle infestations now occurring in the province?

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Q. I have heard that the current beetle epidemic all started in Tweedsmuir Park. Is this true?

While it is true that portions of Tweedsmuir Park were centres of beetle population expansion, it is not true that this was the only centre of population expansion. To understand this, it is important to remember that mountain pine beetle naturally occurs in all pine forests in British Columbia at all times. Usually, population expansion is kept in check by cold temperatures. Current conditions (mild winters and abundant habitat) are such that beetles have been able to flourish and multiply rapidly.

Beetles also generally move in a west to east and northwest to southeast direction on prevailing winds and therefore the expansion has been progressing east and south. This has lead some to conclude that the most westerly beetle population centre is the "source". In truth, multiple centres of population expansion and movement to the east and south have occurred.

The epidemic in Tweedsmuir was only one of the many places that this epidemic started. There are epicenters (mountain pine beetle hot spots) south of Quesnel, near Fort St. James, south of Williams Lake, near Princeton and in the East Kootenays. Mountain pine beetle spreads fastest in old growth lodgepole pine stands. While many parks have old growth forest types, many other areas outside of parks have old growth lodgepole pine stands. The Ministry of Forests undertakes mountain pine beetle surveys across British Columbia each year and posts maps of the areas of infection.

Q. Why weren't the beetles stopped when first discovered?

Upon discovery, the first large mountain pine beetle outbreaks were managed to the best of agencies abilities. The outbreak in Tweedsmuir Park was assessed by BC Parks and Ministry of Forests in 1994 and managed within the provisions of legislation. Management actions included the use of prescribed fire and fall and burn treatments. Other outbreaks outside of protected areas were also discovered and management activities were undertaken. Despite these management tactics, beetle populations have expanded by three or four times each year.

Forestry experts and entomologists agree that you can't "stop" a beetle expansion such as we now see across British Columbia. Only nature can do this through two consecutive very cold winters. However, management activities are planned and implemented to try to slow the rate of expansion until cold winters can stem the rapid expansion of beetle populations.

Q. Why do we have this epidemic and will the forests be destroyed?

The epidemic is largely occurring because of favourable climatic conditions and favourable stands of pine. The west-central portion of British Columbia has not had a severely cold winter for many years. Mild winters result in high survival rates of beetles and therefore population increases occur.

As well, British Columbia has abundant amounts of mature lodgepole pine forests. These forests would normally be comprised of more tree variety and a more varied composition of tree ages. However, due to many decades of forest fire suppression, the stands are very uniform in age and species resulting in an expansive landscape of prime beetle habitat.

This epidemic is not the first epidemic of mountain pine beetle in British Columbia. Its size is comparable to the epidemic of the early 1980s that occurred in the Cariboo-Chilcotin area. Epidemics also do not "destroy" the forests. True, large amounts of trees die as a result of beetles, but new growth rapidly appears below the dead stands. This is nature's way of breaking up uniform stands into ones that are more varied in composition, structure and age - a more natural forest condition.

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Q. When will this epidemic end?

Severe prolonged cold weather or a loss of host trees is the only way to stop the spread of mountain pine beetle. In the Cariboo-Chilcotin, the infestation in the early 1980s continued for ten years, before this weather pattern reduced the spread of mountain pine beetle.

Q. What management options are there for mountain pine beetle in protected areas?

BC Parks Conservation Policies outline a number of strategies to manage for mountain pine beetle. These include:

  • Allowing natural processes to prevail (i.e. do nothing);
  • Pheromone baits and traps;
  • Individual tree fall and burn on-site;
  • Large-scale prescribed burn; and
  • Skid pile and burn on-site with low impact machinery.

Selection of a management option depends on both a technical and ecological evaluation and is also dependent on protected area size and relation of the infestation to neighbouring forestlands. Treatment method is determined through joint decision-making with the Ministry of Forests that takes into consideration protected area values.

Q. Are beetle control treatments in parks effective?

When beetle populations are small, treatments such as fall and burn are highly effective in controlling populations, although treatments must be applied consistently over the course of several years to be effective.

In the case of Tweedsmuir Park, the infestation has become so large that comprehensive treatments are not cost effective. However, in other protected areas, BC Parks has been successfully keeping pine beetle infestations in check for the last four years using fall and burn techniques. By keeping beetle populations controlled in protected areas, impacts of beetle spread into commercial forests can be minimized.

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Q. If this epidemic is a naturally occurring event, why is BC Parks trying to "manage" it?

BC Parks recognizes that natural processes often extend beyond park boundaries. The agency also recognizes that we must take a perspective on the beetle that encompasses the entire landbase, both within and outside protected areas. As such, BC Parks works in co-operation with the Ministry of Forests for overall beetle management objectives and is doing its part to minimize the impact of this naturally occurring epidemic.

Beetle management activities in protected areas only occur in conjunction with activities outside of protected area boundaries and only in areas where government has determined the most effective results will occur.

As well, it is important to note that other land management decisions are respected and taken into consideration as part of any beetle management strategy. For example, protected areas have a primary purpose, often directed through a Land and Resource Management Plan. These purposes, and the associated values, must be considered and protected when undertaking beetle management activities.

Q. Will the effects of the mountain pine beetle harm the animals living in the forests?

Mountain pine beetles kill trees, and the effect of this can impact wildlife in the forests as well. But these effects can be beneficial.

When natural processes that change forests are prevented (such as insects, disease and wildfire), the result can be a much more uniform and static ecosystem. If this occurs, the variety of habitats for wildlife are reduced from what may have been originally occurring and fewer species may result.

Natural processes such as wildfire, insects, disease and wind break up the forests and create areas with different habitats. These varied habitats can attract a wider variety of wildlife and benefit the overall diversity and health of the forest ecosystems. For example, the caribou of the Tweedsmuir and Entiako areas depend on lichens as a key food source. Beetle killed trees lose their foliage and more light can reach down through the forest. This results in increased lichen growth and a better chance of survival for the caribou.

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Q. BC Parks advocates the use of prescribed fire. Doesn't fire damage the forests?

Fire has been part of the forests of British Columbia for thousands of years. In fact, there are species that have evolved with fire to the point of depending on it for continued existence. An example of this includes both lodgepole pine and jack pine cones that are "sealed" by a resin. Heat from fires melts this resin and releases the seeds of the cones.

Fire is also one of the natural processes that continually breaks up habitats that results in a more varied landscape. The higher the variety of habitats, the higher the biodiversity of the landscape.

Fire also stimulates new forest growth by releasing the nutrients into the soil which provides the base for new vegetation. New growth is often extremely important for some species as a food source.

In recent years, there has been a tremendous interest in the ecological role of fire and nature. For more information on the role that wildfire and prescribed fire plays in the ecosystem, visit the Canadian Forest Service Fire Research web site and the Parks Canada Fire in Canada's National Parks web site.

Q. Will logging and road building be allowed in infested stands in protected areas?

Commercial logging and road building is strictly prohibited in protected areas as directed through the Park Act. Further, there are also strong environmental, social and economic reasons to prohibit logging in parks.

From an environmental perspective, the provision of natural processes is paramount. Individual fall and burn, pheromone baits and prescribed burns best reflect these natural processes. This is why management is limited to these options. Ecologically, dead trees play a significant role in the ecosystem by providing habitat for animals, plants and insects and as a source of nutrients for soil structure and development.

Socially, people are interested in maintaining park values and ensuring that these areas remain in a natural state. Protected areas are the cornerstone of "Supernatural BC" and play a significant role in the identity of the province.

Protected areas also form a key component to industrial development outside of protected area boundaries. Sustainable forestry practices depend on natural areas that are protected for biodiversity and conservation values and therefore help forest companies meet sustainability goals.

Many stakeholders, including forest companies, continue to support means other than logging to manage for mountain pine beetles in protected areas. Government is also committed to ensuring that protected areas continue to play a critical role in sustainable development in British Columbia.

Q. I understand there are other bark beetle infestations now occurring in the province?

That is correct. Spruce beetle and balsam bark beetle are at epidemic proportions in many areas throughout BC. Control of these infestations is causing significant concern for foresters as well. More information on the various bark beetles in British Columbia is available at the Ministry of Forests bark beetle web site and at the Canadian Forest Service entomology web site.