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.
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.
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.