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About the Mountain Pine Beetle

Mountain Pine Beetle in British Columbia

Taking Action

In the June, 2006 edition of Alberta Venture Magazine, author Jeff Gailus takes a long look at the bug, the industry, our parks, our policies and the ecologists and managers on the front line. "The problem isn't really the insects. It's how we manage the land."
"What about the long term? If we're wise, we'll learn that fighting fire and battling beetles as if they are our enemies is not the answer. We might even learn that managing our forests as if they are part of a larger ecosystem, rather than an agricultural crop controlled for maximum yield, is the best way to ensure not only ecological integrity, but economic and social stability as well."

Keeping the Bugs at Bay

By Jeff Gailus


Mountain Pine Beetle

click Forest index

Published by the David Suzuki Foundation

Nov 20, 2003

1. Clearcutting will not stop the spread of the mountain pine beetle. In fact, more logging will actually make forests prone to future and more devastating beetle outbreaks.

  • In their original state, BC’s (and Alberta's) forests contain many tree species – and this is one of the ways nature fights outbreaks like the current pine beetle epidemic.

  • The current and planned approach of the Ministry of Forests is to clearcut and replant with one type of tree, which creates a monoculture. The ministry’s approach creates forests that do not have the diversity in age and species of trees needed to fight insect infestations.

pine beetle

Adult bark beetle image from an electron microscope

Photo by Leslie Manning, Canadian Forest Service

2. Beetles occur naturally in our forests, but we currently have an epidemic because we have upset the balance of nature through fire suppression, logging methods, and global warming.

  • Fire suppression: Controlling forest fires has created the perfect conditions for major insect outbreaks. Fires occur naturally in forests and when we don’t allow this to happen, the perfect conditions are set for major insect epidemics. Natural fires also prevent the accumulation of dead wood that can result in abnormally large and uncontrollable fires. Because fire suppression is a key part of BC forest management, our forests are giant tinderboxes as we saw with recent disasters in interior forests.

  • Forest Management: Overwhelmingly, clearcutting is the most common method of forest management in BC. This, along with replanting the same age and species of trees, has removed the necessary diversity in our forests making them more susceptible to beetles infestations and other diseases.

  • Climate Change: Normally, beetle populations are controlled by winter cold snaps that kill off beetle larvae. Global warming has resulted in mild winters and such cold snaps have not occurred for several years. We can expect our lives to be further impacted if the planet continues to heat up.

  • Forest fire disasters in British Columbia in summer 2003 and the interior mountain pine beetle epidemic are proof that we must take a more holistic approach to forest management. Government and industry’s usual reaction to such disasters is to hastily decide to log, including logging in parks, which is a short-term and ineffective solution. Long-term solutions can be found if we use more environmentally responsible logging methods and replant forests with mixed species of trees that more closely resemble their natural state.

3. Increasing logging rates to stop the spread of the mountain pine beetle is an economic – not an ecological – solution

  • Clearcut logging has never stopped a mountain pine beetle outbreak, so cutting huge swaths of forest doesn’t mean beetles will be obliterated and that future outbreaks won’t occur. The Chilcotin area, in BC’s interior, experienced a massive pine beetle outbreak in the 1970s and ‘80s, and the government responded by allowing huge clearcuts in an effort to solve the problem. Not only did this not stop the beetle from spreading through area forests, the social, economic and ecological problems this caused are still being felt in the region.

  • In order to encourage healthy forests for the future, forest managers should employ methods that mimic natural disturbances. These include thinning the forest, partial cutting or selective logging, and prescribed burns, which would re-establish mixed-species forests. These forests would be less prone to insect outbreaks and more resilient to fight future epidemics.

  • All of the salvage logging allowed to date has done nothing to prevent the spread of the mountain pine beetle.

4. Why no logging in parks?

Not only will more logging make the problem worse, but it jeopardizes the integrity of the small amount of parks in British Columbia. Currently, only 12 per cent of the province’s land base is protected in parks, but two-thirds of this is rock and ice and sub-alpine, lower-quality forest. Very little old-growth forest is under protection.

Parks are created to preserve the ecological blueprint of natural ecosystems. Over time, they are needed to protect species and to show how natural systems work, such as how they fight disease like the current pine beetle outbreak.

Here's an article that hits a little closer to home

Keeping the Bugs at Bay, from the June, 2006 edition of Alberta Venture magazine

By Jeff Gailus