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The once beautiful forests are now just simply dead!


S_randypond
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As far as the eye can see, the mountain pine beetleÕs path of destruction can be seen. The implications to the supply of lumber, to the displacement of wildlife in central British Columbia have been felt. photo by Randy Jorgensen.

December 24, 2008
Michigan has a problem with the emerald ash borer. Since the summer of 2002 the nasty little alien beetle has killed millions of ash trees in southeastern Michigan. A classic example of how easily nature can fall out of balance.

How the ash borer beetle, which is native to Asia, arrived in Michigan is anyone's guess. To stop the spread of destruction of ash trees, the Michigan Department of Agriculture has quarantined the transport of all ash trees and ash wood (firewood) outside of southeastern Michigan.

It's a bad little beetle that eats a path of destruction.

Our problems though with the emerald ash borer seem to pale in comparison to those I discovered on a recent trip to British Columbia. It's been eating away at me ever since I returned.

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It too stems from a small insect, the mountain pine beetle (MPB), about the size of a single grain of rice. It's hard to imagine a land so vast, so big, could be devested by something so small, yet it certainly has.

It was during my hunt I saw firsthand the devastation by the MPB, mountainside after mountainside of dead or dying lodgepole pines. Once standing proudly in their brilliant shades of green, they now stand sadly red or gray, what my guide called "the color of death."

The central interior of British Columbia has been hardest hit by tremendous clouds of hungry out-of-control beetles, an estimated 85 million trees since the late 90s are dead. It is estimated that 17 million acres of lodgepole pine have been lost.

As you might suspect, everything in central British Columbia revolves around the land's greatest resource, the forest. The small communities that dot the countryside are lumbering communities and their very livelihood depends on it. Due to MPB infestation over 25,000 jobs have been impacted. Tens of millions of acres of forest have been infested. In addition to British Columbia, the MPB has made its way east to Alberta and can also be found in 12 western U.S. states, most notably, Colorado.

Their problem can be and is ours.

S_randyguy
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A closer look at the mountain pine beetle, no larger than a grain of rice, but raising havoc on the forests of British Columbia. photo by Randy Jorgensen.
Outfitter, Colonel Anderson, who when not hunting, works in the lumbering business himself says, "The mountain pine beetle has peaked in our area, but you can see what it's done, we have lost the majority of our lodgepole pines."

"Aside from the economic impact, it's also had an impact on our habitat, dead trees create erosion problems and flooding," Colonel states.

"They have impacted our wildlife as well, our game need a healthy forest to survive, dead trees don't make for great habitat. Our moose, bear, deer and even birds are affected by this."

"Of course the other threat is fire, at some point we are going to have one. It's burned before and it will again someday. All these dead trees, you can imagine how devastating it would be, there's no stopping it. The entire area would be charred. It's like one large tinderbox around here," Colonel cautioned.

The MPB is native to British Columbia and as explained to me it plays an important role in the natural life cycle of the forests by attacking the older and weaker trees, which helps open the forest floor to new healthier growth. But when the fragile balance of this land is disrupted it becomes a chain reaction of life changing events. The MPB has fallen out of balance.

With a decade of warmer temperatures in the winter months and dry and hot summer months, the stage was set for devastation. You see, the only way to kill the MPB is an extended period of cold temperatures in early fall and late spring. It is cold temperatures that keep the balance in check.

"We need temperatures to drop to -25 degrees (celsius) for an extended period to have a significant kill in late fall and -40 degrees in the winter to control the MPB population. We just simply have not had that," Colonel explains.

Call it what you want, global warming, or cyclical warming trend, the reality is, the conditions were perfect for MPB reproduction and destruction.

The life span of a MPB is about one year. Adult beetles lay eggs in mature trees in mid to late summer, by boring into the tree just inside the bark. Pine beetle larvae spend the winter under the bark continuing to feed on the tree. Adults transport a blue stain fungi into the sapwood which stains the wood blue and it is believed it stops the transport of water to the stems and thus kills the tree. Newly attacked trees turn red about a year after infestation, once they lose their needles they appear a gray color.

In the wake of the attack from the MPB the Canadian government has spent millions of dollars to find new technology to make use of the dead trees and at the same time, salvage harvests as long as possible without creating a glut in the timber market. The harvested trees to this point are structurally sound and have market value. If not suitable for lumber, the timber can be turned into wood chips, pellets or pulp. The lumber industry is doing its best to adjust to and address the MPB. But with millions of acres of dead trees, the delicate balance of harvesting and replanting will be out of sorts with each other.

"Our trees are dying faster than we can get to them to harvest and re-forest an area," Colonel explains.

By 2013, nearly 80 percent of the lodgepole pine forest in British Columbia is expected to be dead.

"Our once beautiful green forest is gone, just gone," Colonel concluded.

It's hard to imagine an insect, so small, the size of a grain of rice, could possibly destroy so much.

I just thought you should know, as the pine beetle eats its way into the history books.

Editor's Note: If you'd like to comment on this story email Randy at: www.rjorgensen@pageone-inc.com

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