Although the Lake District is currently not a major area of concern, some areas of the Skeena region are seeing outbreaks of the spruce beetle, according to Heather Wiebe, the newly-appointed spruce beetle manager.
Wiebe provided an update about the spruce beetle situation to the board of directors of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) last week.
“We’re getting lots of reports from foresters saying they’re seeing new outbreaks of spruce beetle in Skeena,” she said.
Provincial authorities have been paying close attention to the area north of Babine Lake, where there’s a big population of spruce beetle that could be susceptible to an outbreak.
Spruce beetle infestation is already a big concern in parts of the Omineca region, where more than 156,000 hectares of spruce forests are currently infested, making it the biggest outbreak since the 1980s.
Although the Omineca region is currently the biggest concern, Wiebe said conditions are “right” in the Skeena region for an outbreak to start.
Spruce beetle populations in B.C. are endemic, which means that they are always in the forest. When conditions are right, the populations can grow exponentially.
Recent weather patterns, including warm springs, dry summers, warm winters and windstorms (resulting in more tree blowdowns) have contributed to the current increase in spruce beetle populations.
Wiebe said 2016 will be a “telling year.”
She said the next few months will help the province understand whether the spruce beetle population continues to grow at the same speed it was last year.
The ministry has been monitoring outbreaks in the region by conducting aerial surveys – using aircraft and helicopters -, as well as conducting surveys on the ground.
In addition, Wiebe has recently formed a public advisory committee, which includes Bill Miller, RDBN Chair and Director of Electoral Area B, and Bob Murray, owner of Wild Thyme Farm on the Southside.
Furthermore, Wiebe is encouraging the exchange of information between regional districts and industry.
“It takes time for people to understand the life cycles [of spruce beetle] and the treatment,” she said. “It’s been decades since we’ve seen an outbreak of this magnitude in B.C., so a lot of that knowledge has been lost.”
Spruce beetle outbreaks occur regularly in B.C. and historically have lasted up to seven or eight years. A spruce beetle outbreak has the potential to seriously harm or kill spruce trees over large areas wherever mature spruce stands grow.
The spruce beetle attacks the inner bark of spruce trees. The adult female bores through the tree’s bark and creates an egg gallery in the sapwood where she lays her fertilized eggs. When the larvae hatch, they feed on the inner bark and continue to burrow laterally in the tree. The insect’s extended larval galleries and associated blue stain fungi eventually kill the tree.
Identifying trees affected by spruce beetles can be a challenge.
An infested host tree does not immediately display signs of stress or impending death until 13 to 15 months after being successfully attacked.