Corridor braces for pine beetle infestation 

Growth of pine beetle infestation shocks foresters

Dead trees are future fire risk

The pine beetle infestation that has devastated the Interior of the province is working its way south through Whistler, despite attempts to stop the spread of the insects in the region.

In Whistler, beetle control measures have resulted in the falling and burning of more than 5,000 pine trees over the past two years, mostly in the Emerald Estates area and to a lesser degree in Lost Lake Park.

Still, the evidence shows that the insects, which burrow into and kill pine species, are continuing to spread. In the end the growing number of beetles may be too overwhelming to turn back.

"We’ve done a pretty good job controlling beetles in the area, and cleaned up most of them, but the problem is that more beetles keep flying in from the north, and keep coming, which is confounding (Whistler’s) control efforts," said Don Heppner, the head etymologist for the Ministry of Forests’ Coastal Forest Region.

"We’re still assessing what’s possible and what should be the next step. We are seeing more beetles and there has been an influx of beetles up the highway in the Soo River area, and a lot of them seem to have flown in or blown into the Whistler area. We were hoping that Cougar Mountain would make a bit of a physical barrier, and it probably does, but (the beetles) are blowing over or around."

Nobody is sure why the beetle population has exploded in B.C., and it is likely the result of several factors, says Heppner.

"Global warming has been identified as a potential cause, one of the controls is cold weather in the winter," he said. "Another factor is that there’s a large supply of mature pine across the land base today, more than there occurred 100 or 200 years ago, and that’s because of fire suppression. We jump on every fire and try to put it out."

Because of fire control, entire stands of trees are roughly the same age and have reached full maturity. In the past stands would be more mixed in age and variety.

Natural wildfires would also kill off a portion of the beetles, which sleep late in the spring and aren’t known as particularly good flyers.

Heppner recently toured the area by helicopter, bringing forestry consultant Don MacLaurin, municipal horticulturist Paul Beswetherick and municipal stewardship supervisor Heather Beresford along for the ride. He says he will take another tour next week while he considers the best way to handle the problem in the area.

In the Interior the Ministry of Forests has had to give up attempts to control the pine beetles as a result of their overwhelming numbers, and instead is focussing on salvaging as much of the wood as possible.

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