Wednesday, 21 November 2012 15:29

Sask. and Alta. working together to eradicate pine beetle problem in Cypress Interprovincial Park

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The battle wages on with the mountain pine beetle, but it’s not the stereotypical southwest Alberta area where there’s a growing issue.

In the southeast corner of Alberta and the southwest corner of Saskatchewan, in the Cypress Hills Inter-Provincial Park area, there are increased numbers of the pesky pine beetle on both sides of the border.
Near Elkwater there were 82 trees identified this year as being infected and set for burning.
On the Saskatchewan side, there were 433 which were earmarked as infected.
The inter-provincial co-operation involves environment officials finding the effected trees, identifying them, cutting them down and then burning all of them thus destroying the beetles. The surveying in Alberta started in September and will continue until sometime in November. Saskatchewan is mirroring Alberta’s efforts.
Brad Jones, forest health officer with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, said officials have worked hard to avoid a lodgepole pine problem.
“There’s a larger infestation to the east in Saskatchewan which we’re monitoring and working with Saskatchewan officials with,” explained Jones from his Calgary office. “But, in the greater scheme of things, it’s not a huge number of trees (on the Alberta side).
“They’ve been really aggressive over there. They’ve done a great job to manage it.”
Rory McIntosh, who is the Sask. Ministry of Environment’s provincial forest entomologist, said the battle has increased as time passes.
He said many of the beetles coming to Saskatchewan weren’t from southwest Alberta, but from Idaho and Montana.
“It’s fairly low numbers actually as compared to peak tree removal of 2,300 for southwest Alberta,” explained McIntosh. “In orders of magnitude, it’s not bad. We’re working with (Alberta Environment) ... the beetle doesn’t pay attention to political boundaries. We have to treat the whole area as an ecosystem and forget borders.
“I think we’re doing pretty well.”
From 2006-2008, when monitoring came into effect, the numbers were sparse — as little as two or three trees were found to have the beetle.
In 2009, when they implemented the current program there were 123 trees found. In 2010, it was 190; in 2011-269 and for this year it ballooned to the aforementioned 433.
Since 2008, $33 million has been spent on setting up and following through with the pine beetle strategy.
While the numbers are increasing, McIntosh isn’t panicking. There’s cause for concern but only to ensure his department as well as Alberta’s stays on top of it. He said they are nowhere near the numbers southwest Alberta featured in the 1980s where more than 2,300 trees were removed and burned.
McIntosh said because the forest is an old one with not a lot of new trees planted, it’s important to stay on top of the pine beetle. The lodgepole pines are a trademark for both sides of the park and having it destroy the southwest may mean it could spread north.
According to Saskatchewan Environment, the government will contribute $450,000 to mountain pine beetle control efforts in Alberta this year as the two provinces work together to aggressively detect and remove infested trees at the leading edge of the infestation in eastern Alberta.
The partnership agreement provides a framework for a comprehensive regional strategy to combat the beetle before it gets established in Canada’s jack pine forests.
The Government of Saskatchewan is contracting with Great Western Forestry Ltd. to survey forests in Saskatchewan’s northwest and in the Cypress Hills for mountain pine beetle and to mark infested trees for removal.
This is the second year the province has contracted with Great Western at a cost of $350,000.
McIntosh said the partnership with Alberta has been good as has the co-operation with the nearby governments and municipalities. These include Parks Canada, Alberta Parks, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, Rural Municipality of Maple Creek, Carry the Kettle First Nation, Little Pine First Nation and as well with many private landowners and other stakeholders in the Cypress Hills area.
“It’s never easy to get everyone on board but with our process, everyone is included,” explained McIntosh. “We extended our survey to (agricultural) lease land, private ranch land as well as aboriginal reserves. We’ve held stakeholder meetings (too).”
According to Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, on the positive side, for 2012, 24 bait sites and nine funnel traps revealed little or no mountain pine beetle activity in southwest Alberta. This means there will again be no control operations required in the mountain forests between the Red Deer River and the U.S. border.
However, with the infestation in Cypress Hills Inter-provincial Park, 23 sites were identified during aerial survey, and subsequent ground surveys of those sites identified 84 individual trees attacked by mountain pine beetle.
This number is an increase from last year’s 32 trees and the impact is still considered minimal. 
Jones said the strategy is the same in both provinces. There was “no need in reinventing the wheel” when it came to identifying the problem.
In layman’s terms, there’s an aerial search done and then once general areas are identified as being a problem, there’s a follow-up ground survey in order to check closer any other possible trees which are infected but failed to show the tell tale signs of the pine needles turning crimson.
There is a specific method of drilling a sample from the tree to see if the beetles are embedded.
Now the task is trying to clean up the infected and dead wood.
In Alberta, Jones said the park workers will be doing burning in December.
Weather hurt both provinces’ efforts as did the ultra-dry conditions for much of the fall in regards to burning. In the end, McIntosh said they have a good plan.
“It’s not an expediential increase; it just involves early detection and to be responsible.”

Read 4693 times Last modified on Wednesday, 21 November 2012 16:08
Ryan Dahlman

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