The invasive mountain pine beetle population has claimed more than twice as many trees in the Calgary Forest Area than last year.
A recent fall survey revealed the wood-boring insect claimed 3,300 trees in 2019 compared to 1,400 in 2018.
Mike Undershultz, senior forest entomologist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, says they will continue to implement an aggressive attack to minimize their impact upon pine stands.
"The population is increasing a little bit. Relatively speaking, it's not a huge, huge number in comparison to some of the other forest areas of the province. Considering it is a smaller geographic area where these trees are located, it’s definitely a concern to us," says Undershultz.
Most of the trees attacked by mt. pine beetles were found in the Canmore area with a smaller number located in Kananaskis. There was also a small population in the Crowsnest Pass.
The beetle population has wreaked havoc in central and northern Alberta for years, heavily impacting the forest industry. After its population crashed in Southern Alberta in 2010, it has slowly been rebounding.
Last week, the Alberta government announced an annual $5 million increase in funding for the next four years. Previously, it was allocated $25 million annually.
Here in the Calgary Region Area, an aggressive leading-edge strategy is utilized.
Once identified as infested, trees are cut and burned. Underschultz says this typically amounts to about seven trees in a two-hectare plot.
"What we’re trying to do on a landscape level is to break down the connectivity of the pines to create more of a mosaic of age classes and those types of kinds of things. So, in the event of a worst-case scenario where beetles come steamrolling over a forest, potentially the damage is not going to be as bad in a situation where we’ve implemented the strategy."
The spread of the mountain pine beetle is directly related to climate change. Hot, dry summers, coupled with mild winters and forests filled with mature lodgepole pine, have led to an unprecedented epidemic.
Only extremely cold winters and lack of food are the only ways to stop them naturally, he says.
He points to the Jasper townsite as an example of the latter.
"In situations like Jasper, they’ve eaten themselves out of a home in the main valley and the infestation has collapsed."