Alberta claims progress in war on pine beetles

Tue Nov 9, 2010 5:06pm EST
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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Alberta, one of two western Canadian provinces battling a more than decade-old infestation of mountain pine beetles, claimed progress in the fight on Tuesday but warned the war is not yet won.

The infestation in Alberta and British Columbia has cut into supplies of major forestry companies including West Fraser Timber Co, Canfor Corp, Tolko Industries and a host of independent sawmills.

Surveys indicate fewer trees were attacked in Alberta this summer than a year ago, and there were no migration of new beetles over the Rocky Mountains from British Columbia where the outbreak began in the mid-1990s, officials said.

Alberta credits the reduction on its aggressive efforts to remove attacked trees before the insects could spread again, as well as extreme temperature fluctuations last winter that increased the beetle's natural mortality rate.

But officials warned pockets of infested trees remain uncut and the spread from British Columbia may resume next year.

"We had some success this year, but the battle is far from over," said Mel Knight, Alberta's sustainable resource development minister.

The small beetles, Dendroctonus ponderosae, lay eggs under the bark of mature lodge-pole pines, eventually killing them. Once beetles infest a tree in the summer, it cannot be saved, and the new insects spread again the next year.

The lumber remains usable, but loses its value the longer the dead tree remains in the forest. The beetle also spreads a fungus that can give the wood fiber a blue stain.

Pine beetles threaten up to 6 million hectares of forest in Alberta, and it has removed some 400,000 beetle-infested trees since 2006, an official said on Tuesday.   Continued...