The mountain pine beetle (MPB) is the most significant pest of 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.
What we are doing
Since crossing the Rocky Mountains in two mass dispersal events in 2006 and 2009, MPB has spread into lodgepole pine/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.
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 (Jasper and Hinton) may spread east, increasing the possibility that large populations could build in the Swan Hills area of Alberta. That would mean mountain pine beetle could easily spread into east-central Alberta and Saskatchewan's northwest boreal forest.
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, north and south of the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range in northwest Saskatchewan.
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.
Mountain pine beetle 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 Park (Centre Block and West Block), and adjacent forested non-Crown lands which border the park (excluding the jurisdiction of 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 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 and spread into the forest in the late spring.
Why it matters
Forestry is the second 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 2017, Saskatchewan's Ministry of Energy and Resources reported more than $1 billion in forest products sales, with the industry supporting nearly 8,000 direct and indirect jobs. Losses of pine inventory will interrupt 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 unsafe forest conditions (i.e. dead and falling trees).
The beetle has been designated under The Forest Resources Management Act, which makes the import, transportation and storage of pine logs and pine forest products with bark attached originating from British Columbia, Alberta and the United States illegal.