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magazine / jf07

January/February 2007 issue


Pine plague
The mountain pine beetle rampage has crossed the Rockies and is now threatening to devastate Canada’s entire boreal forest
Excerpt of story by Andrew Nikiforuk

A bevy of politicians, bureaucrats, scientists, forest managers, First Nations and environmental groups from Alberta and British Columbia gathered last May at Calgary’s Hyatt Regency for an urgent and unprecedented summit on a bug the size of a rice kernel. Inside a cavernous hall equipped with several large screens, one PowerPoint presenter after another offered alarming maps of an impending invasion that could change continental geography as we know it.


The enemy, "a slow-moving tsunami,” had crossed the Rocky Mountains and was poised to wreck ruin all the way to Labrador. Only Alberta’s watchful foresters stood in the way. At the end of the two-day meeting, David Coutts, Alberta’s Minister of Sustainable Resource Development, solemnly asked the crowd to pray for divine intervention in the form of a frigid winter. Canada’s boreal forest, however, may need more than prayers, for Dendroctonus ponderosae is coming.

The mountain pine beetle should need no introduction. Spurred by climate change and decades of effective fire suppression in Canada’s western forests, the bug is now the author of the worst insect infestation in North American history. Since the late 1990s, the six-legged menace has consumed 12 to 13 million hectares of lodgepole pine forest in central and northern British Columbia, an area nearly twice the size of New Brunswick that includes some $40 billion worth of the province’s most commercially valuable timber. A significant proportion of that will be unrecoverable. By 2013, the government estimates the insect will have killed 80 percent of the province’s mature lodgepole pine and, in so doing, will have played out scientists’ worst-case scenario: the beetle simply won’t stop until it has eaten its way out of house and home.

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