Pulp and Paper Canada

Mountain Pine Beetle: Assessing the damage

February 9, 2010  By Pulp & Paper Canada

A significant portion of sessions at the PAPTAC 2010 Annual Meeting was devoted to discussing something roughl…

A significant portion of sessions at the PAPTAC 2010 Annual Meeting was devoted to discussing something roughly half the size of a fingernail. And yet, the overwhelming devastation caused by the tiny Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) is indisputable and calling out for industry action.

While the beetle has plagued B.C. forests for a decade, and began its migration to Alberta in approximately 2001, the forestry sector is starting to shift focus from prevention to dealing with the millions of hectares of dead lodgepole and jack pine. A morning panel session devoted to an update on the MPB in Alberta confirmed the current affected area in the province stands at 14 million hectares. While there are a number of culpable factors that contributed to the insect’s successful migration, jet streams helped push the beetle from B.C. over the Rockies into Alberta, and the lack of colder temperatures failed to kill off the insect in sufficient numbers to save the province’s forests from attack.


The situation in B.C. continues to be dire as well. Research projects that by 2017 roughly 70% of the western province’s mature pine will have been killed off. Here too, climate change is the main contributor to the problem. The tendency towards more moderate winters has allowed the MPB to prosper, while improved fire suppression techniques have altered the age classification of forests, leaving increased numbers of older trees still standing, and highly vulnerable to beetle infestation and attack.

With lodgepole pine accounting for 30% of B.C.’s timber harvest land base, questions are now turning to how best to preserve the value of the industry’s existing capital stock. Researchers are calling for a concerted R&D effort to sustain the forestry sector’s supply of beetle-killed pine, with an emphasis on changes in pulp strength and extractives profiles over time. The main challenge, it was noted, will be how to offset future reductions in fibre quality.

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