Will the Pines Survive the Pine Beetle?

There might be hope that the pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) will not spread farther into Alberta just yet, laying waste to our pines the way it has in British Columbia.

Pinus, pine tree

I love this pine in my backyard and so does the wildlife. I’m fortunate that a previous owner thought of the future and planted a number of trees. Now I get to enjoy their cool shade, wonderful shadow patterns, long branches that create privacy, and watch the birds that they entice to the yard. My pine is the tallest tree and often a robin likes to perch at the top and proclaim its territory. There is a birdbath next to the pine, and many birds perch on the lower branches before and after their baths. Sometimes a woodpecker will visit systematically up and down the trunk; it’s hard to begrudge it the food it finds. The nuthatches like to hop down the pine trunk, in their typical head down position, as they too search for a meal. The trunk is covered in an assortment of interesting life forms, including moss. Isn’t the bark fascinating? Altogether it is a valuable part of the yard.

pine tree bark

However, this pine and all the others in Alberta have been on the brink of potential endangerment as the voracious pine beetles have made their initial forays east over the Rocky Mountains into our province. In British Columbia they have caused terrible devastation to the forests. The amount of damage done to the ecosystem and economy has been incredible. There are vast stands of dead trees.

However, there was a ray of hope in an article by Bill Mah in the Edmonton Journal newspaper this morning.

‘We’re cautiously optimistic that the winter did give us a helping hand,’ said Erica Lee, a provincial mountain pine beetle prevention specialist. At 299 other sites across the province researchers are also taking stock to test the prediction that temperature were low enough for long enough,12 consecutive hours of -40° C (-40°F) ambient air temperature, in January and February to kill enough of the beetles to make a difference.

The article goes on to explain more of the problems associated with the pine beetle invasion, such as damage to the watershed leading to flooding, the loss of $23 billion worth of timber, and of course the impact on the wildlife. For example, without the lichen which grows there, the woodland caribou will be in trouble.

The original invasion was caused by freak gusts of wind, which carried the pine beetles 400 kilometres over the Rockies to Alberta. It would be sweet revenge if our freakishly cold temperatures managed to kill off enough of them.

I hope for the sake of the vast stands of the pine trees in Alberta, the wildlife, the watershed, the economy, and my beloved backyard pine tree, that the pine beetle invasion will be halted.pine branch closeup

6 thoughts on “Will the Pines Survive the Pine Beetle?”

  1. I sincerely hope it won’t be as serious in Alberta as it is here. The epicentre of the infestation is not that far from where I live. I’m surrounded by Douglas Fir (which is also under attack but doesn’t get the press…yet) but I don’t have to drive far to see miles…upon miles…upon miles of dead trees. It is truly staggering and devastating.

  2. Amy, next winter I won’t complain so much when we get our extended severe cold spells, knowing that it is helping to kill off the beetles.
    I can’t imagine what the devastation must be like to live near. What do you see being regenerated in the old pine forests? I imagine many of the early succession plants are starting to grow. What type of trees are predicted to eventually take over?

  3. I haven’t heard that we’re having similar problems in Virginia so I hope I haven’t missed something! I am so sorry to hear Canada has been hit so hard! I have a circle of pines, also planted by previous owners, that I adore. I love your idea of the birdbath by your pine tree; I might try one dead center. I hope yours stay okay.

  4. Becky, so far the pine beetle problem is in the west, and especially in the province of British Columbia. The severe cold may limit its spread, but of course climate change can have a strong influence on that.

  5. I’m sorry to hear that pine beetles made it to Alberta. I can offer some encouraging news, though: we have them here in N. California, and while they can be devastating during drought years (lots of die-off), the trees recover their strength when we have good rains. After almost thirty years of this, we still have lots and lots of pines left.

    Don’t know if your pines are the same kinds, but the beetles are–and we don’t have the benefit of many severe freezes, they’re only occasional.

    Long may your pines wave!

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