Logging to reduce MPB fire risk

Masha Scheele

Harvesting activities adjacent to and west of Hinton this winter will reduce the amount of dead pine  immediately around the community and lower the potential fire risk.

West Fraser met with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AAF) this fall to discuss work on additional harvest areas west of Hwy. 40 to compliment previous activity. 

“The design and location of these blocks compliment planned fire hazard reduction corridors that were implemented back in 2004,” said Hal Jackson of West Fraser.

The intent would be to harvest these areas this winter, if planning and regulatory timelines allow, continued Jackson. Work is also being done to identify red attacked stands that can still be harvested and included in future harvest plans.

This will lower risk of fire, salvage trees that still have merchantable fibre, and rehabilitate the forest. 

“This winter approximately 26,419 (trees) are slated for control by Agriculture and Forestry in the Edson Forest Area,” said Lindsay Jessup, AAF communications advisor.

Jessup also stated that spring 2019 surveys in the Hinton region showed a general decrease in over-winter MPB success compared to the previous year, as well as higher than average mortality rates. 

“Firstly, reproduction in 2018 was lower than normal. And secondly, because reproduction occurred later in that summer, last year’s overwintering MPB were more vulnerable to the unusually cold winter temperatures,” said Jessup.

Despite there still being some green attacked trees, it has been more difficult to find them in 2019 than in the three years prior.

Significant MPB mortality was recorded with some areas of very little survival after the cold winter, yet it’s not totally clear how the summer weather affected the populations.

Hinton Wood Products helped conduct spring surveys in areas to support AAF plot locations. HWP also found high mortality and low reproduction success, said Jackson.

The cool and rainy weather this past summer is expected to decrease beetle mobility and reproduction, he added.

“Many of the beetle that may have been successful in surviving last winter may have emerged later in the season and could be delayed in their development heading into the winter,” said Jackson. 

Jackson’s biggest concern is identifying the areas where MPB continue in order to maintain their population. With a high number of red attack locations in previous years and a high mortality this year, it’s more difficult to identify where this years’ green attack trees are located.

“In previous years if you went to red attack tree locations you would find the green attacks for the year; this year you may find no greens at many of these locations and there are just too many red attack locations to check all of the sites,” added Jackson.

Many red attack locations have been encountered without green attack trees, however, green attack trees are being found through planning and logging activities. 

Each female beetle produces around 60 eggs of which 40 will be female. This means a large percentage of each generation must die to slow down an outbreak. Many of the areas West Fraser has been logging the last few years have been directly focused on areas of high beetle infestation.

Prior to beetle emergence in the spring, West Fraser logged and milled many green attacked trees and harvest activities continue to follow the forest management plan to harvest stands at risk of MPB.

“West Fraser has also worked closely with AAF staff to coordinate our harvest activities with single tree Level 1 control programs conducted by AAF to maximize control of infested pine,” said Jackson.

Jessup added that provincial MPB funding has been increased to $30 million over the next four years, and that additional funding will increase MPB management program’s annual budget by $5 million from $25 million to $30 million through 2022-2023.

“This is a proven program that reduces the spread and mitigates damage to Alberta forests. This funding will go towards additional ground survey and control work on more than 83,000 hectares,” she said.

West Fraser also acquired funding to complete its own single tree Level 1 control programs, which allowed control of an additional 53,416 trees around Hinton since 2016.

The Level 1 control program is a single tree control program where infested green attack trees are surveyed and controlled, typically by hand falling the tree and burning the tree. 

These trees are sometimes felled mechanically or chipped or peeled instead of burned, however the vast majority of infested trees are felled with a chainsaw and burned on site. 

AAF surveys aerially with helicopters and identifies locations of red attack to prioritize.

Ground crews complete a 50 metre concentric survey plot looking for green attack trees to control. 

Surveys for the red attack trees start in August or early September and control work begins in late November and December to be completed by March when the fire season starts.

Another small harvest plan is located west of the community of Obed.