Government pledges money to stop pine beetle

By Mac Christie

The Saskatchewan government has contributed $150,000 to help fight the spread of the mountain pine beetle which has devastated the pine forests of neighbouring Alberta and British Columbia.

The funds would be spent predominantly on removal of infested trees in zones around Slave Lake, Alta., where the government has the best chance of stopping the spread, said Dr. Rory McIntosh, an entomologist with Saskatchewan Environment.

“This will all go to cutting and burning trees with beetles in them,” he explained. “There’s a natural part of the forest where the continuity of pine forest is pretty much broken up and it’s a matrix of hardwoods. It’s a natural speed bump.”

McIntosh added the idea is to get ahead of the beetle and prevent it from establishing itself closer to the Saskatchewan border.

“I think it’s very effective,” he said of the government funding. “It sounds like a small dollar figure, but it’s sufficient at this point in time to help slow the spread.”

In the Meadow Lake area, where there is a fairly large jackpine land base, the beetle would have an impact, said Al Balisky, general manager of Mistik Management.

About half of Mistik’s wood supply is pine, but Balisky said he doesn’t put a lot of stock in preventing the beetle’s spread.

“I’m not a scientist, but I’m looking at the big picture. Did they stop it in B.C.? Did they stop it in Alberta?” he questioned. “You can spend millions of dollars and the beetle will do what it wants to do.”

The beetle has killed almost 70 per cent of B.C.’s lodgepole pine forests, and was able to cross the Rockies because beetles were picked up in storm fronts.

McIntosh agreed that there are no guarantees the cut and burn action will stop the beetle’s spread, but said slowing it down could allow cold weather events to kill it off.

Still, the numbers have not been good.

“Most reports you’ll hear say they’re (killing) 97 per cent,” McIntosh said. “That sounds like a heck of a lot, but there’s still three per cent of beetles surviving.

“It would be like saying, ‘We’ve got 97 per cent of the small pox outbreak.’ Are you happy with that?”

The spread could also have an impact on Meadow Lake Mechanical Pulp, although how much softwood the company uses depends on market demand, said general manager Simon Imray.

“In the last month we’ve picked up the production of softwood,” he said. “It would be a concern for us if all of a sudden our softwood supply was wiped out.”

For his part, Balisky says it’s more important to try and deal with the beetle when it arrives in Saskatchewan, but noted that he’s not too worried at this point.

“The important thing is to try and deal with it when it arrives,” he said. “It’s not here yet – maybe it won’t come.”

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