||January/February 2007 issue||
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
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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How do you get through the waning weeks of winter?