Pine beetles from Jasper National Park moving into commercial forest

In 2014, beetle activity went from a few spots around Jasper’s townsite to rampant

A massive and uncontrollable buildup of mountain pine beetles in Jasper National Park is starting to explode into commercially valuable forests along its boundaries.

Foresters along the park’s edge have seen a tenfold increase in beetle infestation in just months, and some scientists wonder if Parks Canada could have done more to control the invasion a few years ago.

“They decided to consider the pine beetle a ‘native disturbance agent,’” said Allan Carroll, who has studied the beetles since the late 1990s and directs the University of British Columbia’s Forest Science program. ”In other words, Jasper was not intending to do much about it.”

In an emailed statement, Parks Canada said it has had a beetle management plan for the park since 2015 that includes prescribed burns and tree removal.

Too little, too late, said Carroll.

“Just that hesitation intrinsic to producing a management plan precluded any effective outcomes.”

West Fraser Timber manages about 13,000 square kilometres along the park’s eastern edge and runs a large mill in the town of Hinton just outside the boundary. The company removed about 40,000 bug-infested trees last year.

That number has grown.

“The number that we have been told for this area is around half a million trees,” said Richard Briand, West Fraser’s woodland manager.

READ MORE: Beetle infestation found near Nelson watershed

READ MORE: Tolko Industries wants salvage timber and reduced stumpage

For years, the park and forests to the east and south of it missed the worst of the beetle infestations that ravaged British Columbia and southern and northern Alberta. Cold kept them out.

In northern Alberta, the bugs were able to avoid severe alpine temperatures by flying east over some of the lowest elevations in the Rockies. In the south, the mountains are high but the invaders benefited from warmer temperatures.

Several unusually warm winters finally allowed the beetles to breach Jasper’s defences. They thrived in the park’s large, mature pine forests.

In 2014, beetle activity went from a few spots around Jasper’s townsite to rampant, said Carroll. And it’s worsened ever since.

“The outbreak is probably beyond a controllable situation,” said Mike Underschulz of Alberta Agriculture. “The area around Hinton is a very great concern.”

Underschulz said the eastward spread of red trees killed by pine beetles was inevitable.

“It was probably five years ago when I saw the sea of red in B.C. coming up to the park. I knew it was only a matter of time,” he said.

“There may have been some points in time that Jasper could have implemented a more aggressive control program. Looking back, it wouldn’t have amounted to anything.”

We did our best, said Parks Canada. More than 3,000 affected trees were removed last winter and a 70-hectare break was cut along the eastern boundary, in part to slow the beetle’s spread. Those programs will continue.

Managers have to be extra careful in a national park, said the agency’s statement.

“Prescribed fires are only conducted under exacting conditions and will only go forward when the safety of the public, our crews, park infrastructure and neighbouring lands can be assured.”

Carroll points out that Banff National Park’s beetle control has been much more successful.

“Banff was very aggressive in treating beetles that were on the margins of the park. They did that for six or eight years and were capable of slowing the spread so that the beetles collapsed naturally.”

Either way, West Fraser and the town of Hinton will have to live with hugely infested forests.

Briand said West Fraser has dealt with beetles before.

Harvest plans will be adjusted so the most susceptible stands are harvested first. Reforestation will have to be increased. Salvage logging will go on for years.

“It will add costs to our operations,” he said. “If it gets away from us, it will have negative impacts on the availability of timber in about 20 years.”

Hinton Mayor Marcel Michaels said 645 people work in West Fraser’s mill in his town, the biggest single employer and Hinton’s largest taxpayer. And there are concerns about wildfires if the community is surrounded by thousands of dead trees.

Town council has created an advisory committee to bring together municipal officials, industry representatives and scientists to figure out how to deal with the problem.

“We cannot accept doing nothing,” said Michaels. ”Right now, we’re just throwing darts at the dartboard.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Comox author Loraine Hartley, with a few copies of her debut novel, “My Delightfully Dysfunctional Family.” Photo supplied
Comox author pens novel about life in a blended family

Generally speaking, authors write their books, then determine a title. But not… Continue reading

Police reported more than 2.2 million Criminal Code incidents (excluding traffic offences) in 2019 within Canada- 164,784 more than in 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Crime Severity Index on the rise with the Valley, Canada: StatsCan

There were 1,450 actual incidents in the Comox Valley in 2019

Joyce Jay enjoys a moment with Georgia, her son Ed’s dog, at her Comox home. Joyce is 103 years old. Scott Stanfield photo
Comox centenarian recalls wartime Britain, moving to Canada

Joyce Jay isn’t one to shy away from adventure. She wanted to… Continue reading

The distance education program through Navigate (NIDES) has been seen some large gains in enrolment. Image, screenshot
Comox Valley school enrolment up despite fewer kids in class

Growth being driven heavily by increase in distance education numbers

The Comox Valley Airport had a recent flight arrive with a confirmed case of COVID-19. File photo
COVID-19 exposure on flight into Comox

WestJet flight 3315 from Calgary to Comox was identified with a case

Sooke’s Paul Larouche enjoys gold panning along the Sooke River, looking for small treasures. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
VIDEO: Island man finds niche audience by gold-panning on YouTube

Paul Larouche, 29, with over 215,000 subscribers, opens up about his journey

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

CBSA. (Black Press Media File)
4 sentenced in B.C. steroid smuggling, distribution ring that spilled into U.S.

Canadian Border Services Agency announced the results of a lengthy investigation it called ‘Project Trajectory’

Search and Rescue Technicians carry a stretcher to the CH149 Cormorant during a 442 Squadron Search and Rescue Exercise in Tofino on February 28. (Photo by: Cpl Joey Beaudin, 19 Wing Imaging, Comox)
Father and son found dead after weeklong search near Pemberton

The father and son had set out for a day of mushroom picking last Thursday

A full moon rises over Mt. Cheam on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)
Rare full moon, Daylight Saving makes for a uniquely spooky Halloween – despite COVID-19

We can’t host costume parties but this weekend is still one for the history books

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

MNP senior economist Susan Mowbray presents the State of the Island Economic Report on Thursday night to conclude the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance’s virtual summit. (VIEA image)
Not-so-rosy State of the Island report caps off virtual summit

Vancouver Island Economic Alliance’s summit took place online Oct. 27-29

A study by SlotsOnlineCanada notes there is at least 88 hours of top-rated horror movies for Canadians to consume this Halloween. (Unsplash)
Spooks and Chill study reveals Canada’s favourite horror flicks

88 hours of top-rated horror movies can fill COVID-19 Halloween

Most Read