Spruce beetle threat looms over Prince George

September 8, 2020

By: The Working Forest Staff

Prince George has taken several steps to protect against the threat and homeowners can get ahead of the spruce beetle by taking action before the beetles take flight again next spring.

“People are so upset, it’s like they’re talking about their children,” Tanya Milner, Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, Prince George District specialist, said about homeowners react when they learn their beloved old-growth trees are at risk.

The spruce beetle, which is endemic to the B.C. forest, prefers to attack old-growth trees, especially those that are downed.

The problem in the region is significant.

In 2013, 7,653 hectares of forest in B.C. were affected by the spruce beetle. Last year, there were more than 503,799 hectares impacted across the province and more than half of that was in this area.

The Prince George District saw 259,629 hectares of forest destroyed by the spruce beetle while the Omineca Region, which includes Prince George, Fort St. James, Mackenzie, and Vanderhoof reported more than 354,000 hectares of damage.

Since 2014, a total of 1.3 million hectares have been impacted in the province, making it

the biggest outbreak of spruce beetle infestation since the 1980s.

Since the population of the spruce beetle has grown, the hordes are now attacking healthy trees, too.

The biggest impact so far has been in the Pidherny recreation area by another beetle. Since 2016, Milner and her team have been combatting the Douglas fir beetle by monitoring the area and setting up trap trees – felled living large-diameter trees that attract the beetle, which prefer downed material. Trap trees may absorb up to 10 times the number of beetles of a standing tree from up to 0.4 kilometres away.

Another way to combat infestation is to repel them by attaching anti-aggregation pheromone methylcyclohexenone (MCH) pods to the tree bark, which tricks beetles into thinking the tree is already infested with beetles so they move on. The pods work on both spruce and Douglas fir beetles.

A guide is offered by the city on how to manage Douglas fir beetle infestation on private property and this year the city is working with property owners to take action against the spruce beetle in response to that beetle being seen in Pidherny and Otway last year. There were more than 100 hundred trees identified as infested in that area.

“We went out there with city staff to put up the anti-aggregation pheromone (methylcyclohexenone – MCH) pods on the trees,” Milner said.

There were more than 600 pods used this year within the city including Rainbow Park, Connaught Hill Park, the graveyard as well as other areas. The pods must be placed on the tree before the beetle flight takes place and that happens when there is a consistent temperature of 16 C.

There’s a guide available on how to manage trees on private property.

“We will continue to work with the city to help identify areas that are vulnerable,” she added.

If it gets worse in the city with an increase of spruce beetle infestation, the recommendation will be to fall affected trees and dispose of them.

Plans for an in-person town hall about the spruce beetle had to be canceled in April because of the pandemic and the fall and burn that was scheduled in Pidherny was delayed because of open-burning restrictions set out by the ministry of environment.

“We’ve modified our plan and what we’ve done is felled trap trees in Pidherny and Otway and this fall and winter before the flight next spring we’ll have our wildfire management branch crews look after the falling and burning and we’ll burn those trap trees before the beetle flies out in the spring,” Milner said.

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