Effective Friday, September 17, a province-wide mandatory masking order will be implemented for all indoor public spaces.
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The mountain pine beetle (MPB) is the most significant pest threat to pine forests in North America. MPB can colonize and kill jack pine trees, posing a threat to pine forest ecosystems and sustainable development of the forest industry in Saskatchewan and across Canada.
Saskatchewan is the MPB's "gateway" to Canada's boreal forest. Once MPB spreads into and across Saskatchewan, the rate of spread will increase substantially because the distribution and density of pine forests increases in eastern forests. Confirming MPB (presence or absence) in the northern boreal is a significant measure, helping to guide the Ministry of Environment's risk assessment policies and subsequent response actions.
Forestry is the largest industry in Saskatchewan's north. The forest industry depends on a sustainable supply of forest products. On average, one third to one half of all softwood manufactured in Saskatchewan annually is jack pine. In 2020, Saskatchewan's Ministry of Energy and Resources reported the forest industry supported nearly 8,000 direct and indirect jobs and generated more than $1 billion in forest product sales annually, of which more than 65 per cent is from exports. Losses of pine inventory would interrupt the long-term sustainable wood supply to mills, resulting in reduced mill productivity, manufacturing and ultimately job loss.
The MPB outbreak in British Columbia infested over 18 million hectares and killed 731 million cubic metres, or 54 per cent, of the province's merchantable lodgepole pine. Those losses impacted forest-dependent communities.
Many of Saskatchewan's most visited provincial parks (Cypress Hills, Meadow Lake, La Ronge, Narrow Hills, Candle Lake and Makwa Lake) have large pine forests that, if killed by the beetle, would have serious implications on visitation, experience and public safety from increased fire risk, and dead and falling trees.
The beetle has been designated under The Forest Resources Management Act, which makes it illegal to import, transport and store pine logs and pine forest products with bark attached if they originate from British Columbia, Alberta and the United States.
Since crossing the Rocky Mountains in two mass dispersal events in 2006 and 2009, MPB has spread into lodgepole pine and jack pine forest ecosystems in central and eastern Alberta, where the beetle had not been found before. Monitoring and early detection of the presence and severity of insect and disease conditions in the forest helps ensure timely detection and response.
Currently, no mountain pine beetles have been detected in the boreal monitoring area.
It is anticipated that eastward spread rates could increase significantly in the near future due to recent policy changes in Alberta. Alberta announced in 2018-19 that protecting key watersheds along the eastern stages of the Rockies and protecting endangered species would take priority over slowing the eastern spread of MPB. This could allow spot infestations along the eastern edge of Alberta to establish and spread, leaving boreal jack pine forests in Saskatchewan and the rest of Canada vulnerable to invasion by MPB.
Large populations of MPB that have been building in western Alberta, in the Jasper and Hinton areas, may spread east, increasing the possibility that large populations could build in the Swan Hills area of Alberta. That would mean MPB could easily spread into east-central Alberta and Saskatchewan's northwest boreal forest.
In Saskatchewan, MPB surveillance is conducted in the boreal northwest and in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. The ministry conducts ground-based monitoring in highly susceptible jack pine forests in the northwest boreal forest. Between 2011 and 2017, the ministry established a network of helicopter landing and tree-baiting sites to improve access and capacity to detect the leading edge of MPB infestation in the boreal forest. Tree-bait sites are established in 57 areas where highly susceptible pine exists throughout northwest Saskatchewan, including 50 sites north and south of the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range, and seven sites within the Air Weapons Range.
Survey and monitoring data support a framework that is crucial to the integrity of a long-term forest health management plan for Saskatchewan. The measure for MPB in the boreal forest is currently its presence or absence. Currently, no MPB have been detected in the boreal monitoring area.
The MPB is a natural component of the lodgepole pine forest ecosystem in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park and is being actively managed through aerial and ground surveys. All lodgepole pine stands within Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park (Centre Block and West Block), and adjacent forested non-Crown lands that border the park (excluding Alberta) are surveyed. If beetles are found, surveyors expand their search area in a circle around infested trees, to locate all the trees attacked in the current year.
Once infested trees are found and marked, the next step is a quick and aggressive control response. The most effective control method is to find the beetle-infested trees in fall and winter months, then cut them down and burn them before the beetles can leave, spread and attack healthy pine trees in the late spring or early summer. Infested trees are controlled within Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park by the Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport.
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