Spruce beetle a growing concern

“An outbreak could considerably undermine our efforts,” says BLCF manager

Areas already impacted by the mountain pine beetle infestation in B.C. have yet another reason to be concerned – the spruce beetle.

The spruce beetle is a forest pest that is native to spruce forests and attacks the inner bark of these trees. The infestation continues to significantly grow in some parts of B.C.

According to the province’s latest aerial overview survey, about 210,000 hectares of forest in the Omineca region are currently impacted by spruce beetles, compared to about 156,000 hectares in October 2015.

Although the Lakes District region hasn’t seen any significant outbreaks, the large volumes of spruce in the region have been keeping the local industry and government on high alert.

Frank Varga, general manager of the Burns Lake Community Forest (BLCF), said the BLCF’s mid-term timber supply and a large component of the future volume will be dependent on a sustainable harvest level of spruce.

“When a considerable amount of your mature forest is green spruce, naturally you would be concerned,” said Varga. “A spruce beetle outbreak could considerably undermine our efforts.”

Varga says the current situation in the Lakes District is “not yet concerning.”

“However, we cannot be complacent about the infestation,” he said. “The Omineca region is already experiencing an outbreak that is larger than the one they had in the 1980s.”

“Our layout contractors keep an eye out for outbreaks and we are closely monitoring past locations for outbreak,” he continued. “It is important to note that they [spruce beetle] are as much a natural component of a stand as is the mountain pine beetle; the concern is more around the intensity and size of an outbreak given climatic changes that we are all experiencing.”

“Climate change will impact the infestations in ways we probably are not yet aware off,” he added. “We saw this with the mountain pine beetle; it can easily sustain or promote the intensity of an outbreak.”

Varga said there needs to be a collaborate effort with industry and government to effectively manage the implications of an infestation.

“Given the current situation that is unfolding in the Omineca region, I have a heightened awareness of the situation,” he said. “The community forest will do the utmost to manage the situation in the most sustainable way possible to minimize the impact to the K1A licence.”

According to the provincial government, the situation is being closely monitored to minimize any impacts on timber supply, the forest industry and forestry jobs. The province established a spruce beetle committee in July of 2016 and has been working with forest licensees and other stakeholders to identify affected areas, evaluate population control methods and determine the most effective ways to limit the current outbreak.

To date, the ministry has committed $1.95 million for spruce beetle mitigation efforts.

The province says that although this outbreak is a concern, the situation is not comparable to the spread of the mountain pine beetle in recent decades. However, Tim Ebata, forest health officer with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, points out that the outbreak cycle is still far from over. Spruce beetle outbreaks have historically lasted up to seven or eight years.