The long term impact of the Pine Mountain Beetle

The Pine Mountain Beetle is native to North America; it inhabits forest areas from the northern part of Mexico to the Western Part of Canada. The Pine Mountain Beetle kills off long standing pine trees or weakened pine. In normal circumstances the Pine Mountain Beetle is considered a healthy part of forestry management as it kills off aged pine and allows room for younger saplings. The beetles burrow into pine trees and lay eggs, the larvae consume the tree sap. Given enough infestation, the sap from the tree is depleted and the tree dies.

Historically there have been periods where the level of this insect reaches epidemic levels and does significant destruction to forests. The latest epidemic started in 2006 and has shown little signs of abating. The beetle is ravaging the forests of Colorado and British Columbia and has killed off millions of acres of pine trees. The Lodgepole Pine is particularly susceptible. The current epidemic has been longer and more wide-spread than other recorded outbreaks.

It is believed that warmer weather in recent years has accelerated the outbreak as cold tends to kill the beetle off. The most effective time for the cold weather to have an impact is spring and fall, as this is when the pine beetle is active. Once the pine beetle borrows into a tree and lays its eggs, extreme temperature has much less of an impact. While the 2014 winter in many parts of the US and Canada has been colder than average, the fall temperatures were actually above normal for most of North America.

The epidemic has affected the timber industry, but in the short term, not in the way one would expect. Because of the outbreak, timber harvesting has been more aggressive in order to slow the growth. Also dead pine can still be harvested for a brief period, so there has been a rush to harvest the dead pine. This has actually created some surplus of pine timber. This surplus will eventually turn into a significant short fall as the beetle continues to ravage forests. Economists are saying that British Columbia will start to see a major economic impact in loss of jobs and revenue from the downturn in timber harvesting within the next 6 years. Major shortages could propagate across most of North America. This certainly could drive up the cost of lumber, depending on how we adapt to the shortages. If a substitute is found, the lumber shortage could be mitigated. However many areas that rely on lumber harvesting, could see a severe economic impact.

Both the Canadian and US Government are attempting to fight the epidemic by adjusting forestry practices as well as allowing more aggressive chemical treatments. There are effective treatments that can prevent the spread of infestation, but once the beetle has burrowed into a tree, there is no known chemical treatment that is effective.

There has been some optimistic news reported in Colorado. Several recent news articles have pointed out the spread of the Pine Mountain Beetle has slowed. There have not been such reports coming out of British Columbia where the epidemic seems to be worsening. Many are blaming global warming for this out break and site it as one of the many ecological disasters that could impact the planet because of climate change. Regardless of the causes, both the US and Canadian Governments are spending more resources to combat this epidemic.