The number of mountain pine beetles in Alberta has declined dramatically over the past two years, thanks to cold weather and mitigation efforts, Alberta Forestry announced Tuesday.
The beetle population in the province has dropped by 94 percent compared to its peak in 2019, a statement from the department said. This decline is attributed to cold weather in recent years as well as targeted efforts to prevent the invasive beetle from spreading further east.
“I have personally seen the effects of mountain pine beetles and understand the risk outbreaks pose to the livelihoods of thousands of Albertans and the resilience of our forests,” Forestry, Parks and Tourism Minister Todd Loewen said in a news release said. “I am pleased to see that our approach to controlling the spread of mountain pine beetles and favorable weather trends is having such a positive impact in many areas around the province, and we will continue to protect our forests for future generations.”
Population surveys have found the number of trees killed by the beetles has decreased for a fourth consecutive year.
Mountain pine beetles are wood-boring insects that swarm and attack a variety of trees, leaving them as red, dead wood stock. Originating in British Columbia, they spread eastward across western Alberta, infecting more than 2.4 million hectares of forest in the province, with nearly all pine trees in the most affected areas dead.
A 2019 population forecast map shows the beetles were present in much of the west-central and southwestern parts of the county from Grande Prairie to Kananaskis. They were also present as far east as Lac La Biche. The province said on Tuesday that the sharp decline in beetle numbers is good news, but that there is “continued population pressure” in Banff National Park.
“I would say it’s more or less really repulsed. This is expected because when the beetle reaches a certain threshold that we call epidemic, management activities have a very minimal impact on them,” said Erbilgin. “We’re talking about billions and billions of beetles and they’re spreading everywhere, they’re flying everywhere. What are you going to do, you can’t remove every single tree.”
However, Erbilgin said management programs could be concentrated in certain areas to help stop the spread. He said that although there are still a large number of beetles in the province, there is no evidence that their population will recover in the coming years.
“This year is going to be very critical. We had a very early cold start this year compared to other years,” said Erbilgin, “which is good for us and very bad news for the beetles.”
Erbilgin said the affected forest areas must eventually return to the lush green state they were in before the beetles spread eastward.