Letter: Pine beetle management a complex problem

“UBC researcher says management of pine beetle not working.” This is simplistic to the extreme.

To the editor:

I take exception to the “not working” slant of your Capital News, Dec.9, 2016 article “UBC researcher says management of pine beetle not working.” This is simplistic to the extreme.

I was a key person in the development and implementation of mountain pine beetle tree baits.

I learned to understand their benefits and limitations.

Pheromone based tree bait attractants and semiochemical repellants, such as verbenone, are very valuable tools to manage bark beetle infestations.

But they are not pest management “silver bullets.”

People gravitate to silver bullet solutions because they offer simple solutions to complex problems.

The mountain pine beetle is a complex problem requiring a complex solution deployed over a lengthy time frame.

Which government is willing to make that commitment?

Over the decades forest harvesting and silvicultural practices created a monoculture of high density, even aged lodge pole pine.

Forest fire fighting efforts prevented these tree habitats from recycling naturally by fire.

As all these trees reached old age (over 70 years) they became weak and prime targets for the pine beetle.

That, combined with warmer winters led to an explosion of mountain pine beetle infestations and spillover in relatively untouched forest habitats in parks and forest reserves.

The dinner was set on a grand scale.

Salvage logging picked up the scraps off the floor.

Any expectation that pheromone tree baits or any other pre-emptive measures, on their own, could avoid this situation is fantasy.

Tree baits are meant to be used with other beetle mitigating measures such as rapid removal and processing of infested trees.

This is problematic in Banff and other national and provincial parks.

Salvage logging is not pretty and access roads scar the landscape.

Removal by helicopters is dangerous and prohibitively expensive.

Prescribed burning of infested trees is a touchy political issue (Smokey the Bear told us that every fire is a bad fire).

In such situations use of tree baits may not be appropriate.

Further, Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency has not embraced innovative products and technologies such as aerial application of verbenone slow release formulations to help manage mountain pine beetles in remote locations.

In contrast, the US Environmental Protection Agency has approved the most promising of these formulations.

Forest pest management experts now have a pretty good understanding what the long term solutions are and it’s not coming up with a steady stream of new, man-made, pest management products.

The long term approach is to adopt silvicultural practices that emulate natural habitats resulting in a complexity of tree species and ages.

These practices extend to letting natural fires run their course.

My comments have just skimmed the surface of the mountain pine beetle issue but I hope I have added a bit more understanding than the “not working” slant of your Dec.9 article.

It’s a complex problem with a complex solution.

And we haven’t even talked about western pine beetle, spruce beetle and Douglas-fir beetle.

Steve Burke, West Kelowna