Insect infestations, like fire, can play an important role in the life of our forests by releasing nutrients and removing sick or aging trees. But in some cases, things go too far and a large-scale infestation does more harm than good. In British Columbia, the mountain pine beetle has created a crisis in recent years by killing more than half of the province’s mature pine trees. Insect infestations are also the leading cause of tree loss in Alberta right now.
The mountain pine beetle infests trees by embedding itself in their trunks. After implanting itself, it transmits a fungus that kills the tree by cutting off the flow of water and nutrients. The beetle has been spreading east across Canada, including in Alberta where its main target is the lodgepole pine.
In Alberta, the forest industry and the provincial government have worked together to slow the mountain pine beetle’s spread to other provinces. By monitoring the situation closely and proactively harvesting trees that are most susceptible or already infested, we have been able to slow the beetle down. Diversity of tree species in our forests is also crucial to limiting infestations – ongoing efforts to increase the diversity and resilience of our forests will help keep insects and disease in check.