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The Mountain Pine Beetle: Sixth in a Ten Part Chipps Tree Care Series on Edmonton Tree Care

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Everyone knows that the Canadian west boasts North America’s most beautiful boreal bounty — its forests and national parks have been the favorites of filmmakers and photographers for years. Alberta’s ecology is something special, and the beauty and majesty of its trees are visible from the boreal forests of the North all the way to the tree-lined canopies of Edmonton’s famed “urban forest.” If we want to continue enjoying everything nature has on offer, we should also take responsibility for the environmental conditions that can make our natural ecology thrive — or destroy it.

If you live in Alberta, it is imperative that you educate yourself about the insect with the single largest and most negative effect on the environment — the mountain pine beetle. The Dendroctonus ponderosae, or mountain pine beetle, is a species of bark beetle native to the forests of western North America. Measuring roughly 5 mm., it is approximately the size of a grain of rice. This small insect has, in conjunction with rising global temperatures, decimated large areas of pine forest in Western Canada, specifically in the lodgepole pine forests of British Columbia and Alberta, even sweeping down into some of Alberta’s southernmost cities. The mountain pine beetle has already wiped out an area of B.C.’s lodgepole pine forest as large as Nova Scotia and New Brunswick combined. It has since crossed the Rocky Mountains into Alberta and is heading for Saskatchewan.

These beetles inhabit ponderosa, whitebark, lodgepole, Scotch, jack pine, and limber pine trees — many species that make up both Alberta’s rich Northern woods as well as Edmonton’s vibrant urban forest. In preferable ecological conditions, these beetles play a vital role in the lifecycle of a forest, clearing away old and weakened trees, and making way for the development of a younger, stronger forest. Ideally, an outbreak of beetles would occur every 25 years — a perfect timeline for pine tree growth — but unusually hot, dry summers and mild winters throughout the Western Canadian region during the last decade have led to an unprecedented epidemic, leading to the largest forest insect blight ever seen in North America.

Climate change has contributed to the size and severity of the outbreak, which itself may, with similar infestations, have significant effects on the capability of northern forests to remove greenhouse gas (CO2) from the atmosphere, a side effect that will be disastrous for future generations of Albertans.

Warmer winters have allowed beetle populations to explode and wipe out millions of hectares of forest in the Canadian West and the effects on forest ecosystems and the forestry industry have been devastating, and illustrate the dangers of a very real climate change affecting the globe. “Nobody would have expected that a simple degree and a half of warming in the interior would unleash a beetle outbreak in 18 million hectares worth of pine forest,” says nature documentary filmmaker David York, the mind behind the documentary The Beetles Are Coming, which originally aired on CBC’s The Nature of Things.

If you spot these small, grain-sized critters near your ponderosa or jackpine, be sure to contact a Chipps Tree Care specialist before the problem gets out of hand. The only way to treat your trees and keep the pine beetle away from your lawn and yard is through the use of preventative chemical spraying. Because it is illegal to use certain non-registered chemicals, and because these sprays can be hazardous if not applied correctly, it is imperative that you contact a trained and certified Chipps Tree Care arborist for an immediate on-site assessment. To maximize preventive bark beetle spraying, treatment needs to be done before beetle flight in March or April on an annual basis during years when the risk of beetles is high.

The industry standard for bark beetle preventive spraying has been carbaryl, a carbamate that has long been used for the control of leaf-chewing insects in both forest and garden situations. Never try to apply tree care chemicals on your own as it could result in health concerns for both your lawn and your family. But rest assured — proper chemical spray prevention by our highly expert tree care technicians will result in reduced beetle populations — and an improved ecosystem throughout both Edmonton’s tree canopy and Alberta’s rich provincial ecosystem.