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Feds announce $60M in MPB funds for Alberta

West Fraser 2017 Photo

Masha Scheele

The Government of Canada has announced $60M in funding for Alberta over the next three years to support ongoing work to combat the Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB), but it is still uncertain if the funds will have any local impacts.

“To address the threat, we need a united front, a team Canada solution,” said Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan, during the announcement on Oct. 8.

This funding includes $24M for fiscal year 2020–2021 to address the outbreak of MPB in Alberta and the Rocky Mountain National Parks while mitigating negative impacts on the forest sector and communities. 

The Government of Alberta will use funds to help continue with and expand it’s aerial and ground surveillance and beetle control work that includes removing infested trees, and fund new research.

Final details associated with the announcements are still coming and it is unknown how this funding will be distributed, explained Keith McClain, FRI Research program lead of the Mountain Pine Beetle Ecology Program in Hinton.

The Town of Hinton believes the funding is a positive step, but agrees that it is uncertain where the province will prioritize activity.

“The announcement of these funds in and of themselves is good news, but it is hard to foresee what level of impact it will have in our local community directly. The province has full discretion in how to disburse these dollars, and it is possible that they will follow their existing strategy of investing efforts and dollars to the fight at the leading edge, which Hinton no longer is. The current edge would be east in the Edson Forestry area,” stated Hans van Klaveren, Hinton’s parks, recreation, and culture manager.

He added that the Hinton Mountain Pine Beetle Advisory Committee – which was formed in fall 2017 and produced a workplan approved by council in September 2018 – can engage with and put recommendations forward, or take other actions they deem possible to positively influence the provincial strategy.

The Hinton and District Chamber of Commerce made a recommendation in a policy that was approved by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to be advocated upon in 2018, to reinstate the Federal Mountain Pine Beetle Program with funds equivalent in scale to the $200M, similar to what was allocated during the 2007-2010 program. 

Natalie Charlton, executive director of the Chamber noted, “This could potentially mean that we are getting less.”

Federal contributions for the fight against MPB include $8M in 2007-08, $10M in 2009-10, and $370K in 2010-11, according to Justin Laurence, press secretary to the minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

The $60M for the Alberta Government will support Alberta’s strategic objectives for MPB management to limit the spread of MPB into the eastern boreal forest, limit the spread of MPB along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, and mitigate damage to Alberta’s pine resources in locations where MPB is already established, stated Claire Teichman, communications of the Minister of Natural Resources office.

Alberta uses aerial and ground survey techniques to detect and monitor beetle populations, looking to detect red-crowned pine trees symptomatic of MPB infestation, as well as infested trees that have not yet turned red. 

Surveys will also be done in Alberta and Western Saskatchewan to identify potential critical pathways of the MPB, Teichman added.

This funding would also augment existing control operations by the Government of Alberta and enable the removal of additional trees annually.

An additional $6.9M will go to Parks Canada to mitigate pine beetle impacts and reduce the risk of wildfires within the national parks, and $1.5M is going to Natural Resources Canada’s canadian force service, which employs the nation’s largest team of scientists devoted to pest management, to learn more about the beetle’s risk of the eastward spread.

Parks Canada will use funds to reduce the wildfire risk related to the MPB infestation in the Rocky Mountain National Parks, enhance safety for adjacent communities, and increase resiliency to MPB impacts and potential spread. 

This will be done through aerial and ground monitoring surveys, the development of decision support and planning tools, and prescribed fire and fuel modification operations at key locations in Jasper, Banff, Kootenay, and Yoho National Parks, stated Teichman.

Natural Resources Canada will advance laboratory and field studies, through its funding.

This includes activities such as field observations, collection of samples, measurements, laboratory analyses, data analyses, scientific publication, and knowledge transfer. 

“Thanks to Alberta’s efforts and the hard work of Albertans, our aerial surveys have shown that the fight against MPB is working, and that our work along with favourable winters have been working,” stated Hon. Devin Dreeshen, Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

More than 147,000 trees killed by the beetle were detected through aerial surveys across Alberta this year, compared to almost a quarter of a million trees that were detected last year, he added.

In the Edson Forest Area, where Hinton is located, 140,997 trees were killed by MPB in 2019, while 115,020 dead trees were detected in 2020.

Right now, Alberta is developing detailed ground surveys and the control program for the upcoming winter. This is when individual MPB infested trees will be cut and burned to stop the spread, Dreeshen stated.

“This is a comprehensive control plan the province has seen over the last two decades. We will not stop until we have successfully safeguarded our resources and shielded the rest of Canada from this devastating infestation,” Dreeshen said.

In the province of Alberta, about 40,000 Albertans rely on the forestry sector and the forest sector is a major contributor to Alberta’s economic recovery, Dreeshen added.

Since the early 2000’s, Alberta has invested over $560M to combat the MPB and this infestation. 

The pest continues to threaten about $11B worth of pine trees in the province, according to Dreeshen.

The government of Saskatchen has provided millions of dollars over the last six or seven years to the province of Alberta to help fight the MPB.

Since 2010, Natural Resources Canada has invested $12.9M in mountain pine beetle related research in Alberta.

O’Regan noted that the forestry sector has stepped up over the past few months to supply necessary wood products and provide essential items for Canadians.

“All the important work you do requires our forests to be healthy in Alberta and right across the country. The mountain pine beetle has been harming our forests, hurting our economy, increasing wildlife risk, reducing our ability to enjoy the parks that showcase Canada’s stunning natural beauty, and depleting carbon storage in forests,” O’Regan said.

MPB is jeopardizing $9B of pine timber, according to O’Regan.

This funding will help protect forests, jobs, and companies in communities across Alberta that are dependent on forests. 

He noted that a healthy forest functions in a carbon sink, and because of that they will move Canada closer to a net zero goal in 2050.

Jason Krips, president and CAO of Alberta’s Forest Product Association, agreed that working forests are a critical part in the carbon solution and an important vehicle to reaching net zero.

“Working forests sustained more than 230,000 direct jobs throughout Canada. Our forests aren’t just important to our economy, they’re critical to our environment and well being,” he said.

He noted that the United Nations has also highlighted the importance of working forests in the global recovery.