A noted increase in the volume of timber killed by spruce beetles in the region comes as government forestry officials prepare for their annual beetle surveys and treatment projects.
The volume killed in the Nadina Natural Resource District increased by about 24,000 cubic metres between 2017 and 2018 compared to the previous survey, Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) spokesperson Dawn Makarowski told Lakes District News.
The Nadina District comprises an area from just west of Endako to southeast of Smithers, and from around Fort Babine in the north to Tesla Lake in the south.
FLNRORD is seeking tenders on BC Bid for the beetle project, which in total is estimated to cost about $100,000, Makarowski said.
The surveying portion of the project will consist of aerial and ground monitoring of spruce bark beetle, mountain pine beetle and Douglas Fir bark beetle. For the treatment portion, infested timber will be cut down and burned.
Lakes District News inquired why the wood will be burned, the ministry did not reply by press time.
Last year the project, undertaken in a smaller part of the district cost $50,000.
The contract will this year include the entire district and covers about 1.5 million hectares of forest land.
It is expected to be completed by Dec. 15, 2019, “so any infested trees identified can be treated before the next beetle flight in the spring of 2020,” Makarowski said.
The Nadina District is the easternmost part of the larger Skeena Region, which has experienced a far smaller degree of spruce beetle infestation compared to the neighbouring Omineca Region, as FLNRORD officials told a meeting of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako in early September.
However, the infestation in the Skeena has been growing steadily over the last six years and grew from 90 hectares in 2013 to 27,249 ha in 2018.
In comparison, infestation in the Omineca Region spread from 7,653 ha in 2013 to more than 217,251 ha in 2014, and peaked at 341,000 ha in 2017, according to FLNRORD data. It dropped to 242,000 ha last year.
Spruce beetle infestations can be harder to identify than those of their mountain pine cousins, whose attacks turn the needles a distinctive red.
“[With spruce beetle infestations] fading of the foliage to a yellowish green may be noticeable during the winter following attack, particularly in the lower crown,” according to a Natural Resources Canada factsheet.
“By the second autumn, most of the needles may have been lost and, for a year or two, the tree will have a reddish appearance from a distance due to the colour of the small, bare twigs. When these twigs fall, the trees are less conspicuous. In general, foliage discoloration and loss are not apparent until a year or more after attack.”
Survey research has found that spruce beetle attacks have a scattered pattern in diverse stands comprising spruce and balsam, unlike the wave-style attacks of mountain pine beetle.
Another difference between spruce beetle and mountain pine beetle attacks is that spruce stands tend to have trees of varying ages and when larger spruce trees are attacked, the younger ones are left to keep growing.
The FLNRORD officials cited changing weather patterns, such as warmer winters and less precipitation as some of the causes behind the spread of spruce beetles.
Telkwa mayor Brad Layton warned recently that spruce beetle outbreaks have reached an “epidemic” level and urged the government to do a lot more to bring them under control.
“We are losing a resource for the future, we are seeing curtailments and the downturn in our industry. One of the big things is lack of fibre and here we are letting a beetle, which is easily controlled, run wild,” Layton said.
“Spruce beetle live on a two-year cycle and don’t fly a great distance from the first year to the second. They are also very susceptible to trap trees which will suck them in and you can deal with them. In the past, for small epidemics that didn’t get to this size because they were dealt with, the government had things in place where trap trees programs were done on every road that had spruce trees. Within a couple of years, we knocked spruce beetle back.”
– with files from Marisca Bakker