Mountain pine beetle and fire in our forests

Every summer for the last few years, large
numbers of wildfires have destroyed hectares and hectares of trees and
threatened forest communities. On average British Columbia has
about 2000 wildfires per year. That number can vary considerably
from fire season to fire season. We’ve had as few as in the nine
hundreds and as many as 4500. So there is a lot of variability in that number. About 50% of those fires are caused by people and the other 50% are caused by lightning. Humans have not only caused some of these wildfires but by continuing to promote fire
prevention in the forest, humans have actually contributed
to an increase in forest fires. If that sounds somewhat strange, stay tuned to find
out about the role that fire plays in the forest and how forest management strategies
like prescribed burning help to return forest ecosystems to a
state of balance and health. We’ve learned over the last 100 years that
we’ve spent the first probably 80 years whether it was with Parks Canada or with Provincial
Forest Agencies, always putting out fires. Fighting fires whenever they came on to the landscape. Through more recent research we’ve learned how
important fires are to renewing the forest. While fire is nature’s way of thinning the
forest and promoting biodiversity, the economic and socio-cultural impacts
of wildfires are devastating. Loss of valuable timber not only
impacts the forest industry, it impacts many other sectors such as
tourism, wood markets and jobs. Due to successful fire suppression,
trees in the forest have multiplied, filling open spaces and overtaking grasslands. Species such as the lodgepole pine
that rely on fire to prevent crowding have increased throughout western Canada. As the pine trees age, they become weaker and more
susceptible to drought, disease and insects. One particular insect that is causing havoc across the
western Canadian forest is the mountain pine beetle. Native to the pine forest, this rice-sized beetle actually
helps forest renewal by thinning out aging pine forests. Due to climate change and rising temperatures as well
as unhealthy forest conditions and fire suppression, the mountain pine beetle population has exploded. Our best scientists, both federal and
provincial, tell us that we can expect to lose 80% of the mature pine in
British Columbia by the year 2014. So the question is how can something
so small kill an organism so big? And especially given that this organism here, this tree is capable of producing a whole bunch
of toxic resin when it’s actually attacked. And that is the beetle carries with it
spores of a blue stained fungus and what it does as it’s boring
through the bark of the tree, it inoculates at the point of penetration these
spores and the spores grow very quickly and what they do is actually shut down
the resin production by the tree. So the mountain pine beetle is interrupting one of the
most important vascular systems of the tree. To add to this dilemma, the pine beetle
epidemic has another consequence. Trees killed by the mountain pine beetle create
huge fuel reservoirs just waiting for ignition. Throw in climate change and hot, dry summers
and you have a recipe for wildfire. Unfortunately, we can’t simply let
nature take its course in the forest, since wildfires pose unacceptable
risks to public safety. Everyone involved, government, non-government,
industry and the public must be open to new ways of
restoring forest health. Strategies such as letting fires burn,
thinning forests, planting new species and in many cases, fighting fire with fire or
prescribed burning are being implemented. Well prescribed burning is probably not
much different for thousands of years. It’s where people choose the time
and the place to light a fire, they have some objectives they
want to achieve with that fire. I think it’s one of those things you
can develop quite a bit of skill for. Prescribed fires grow better forests, creating natural mosaics and better habitat
for wildlife and domestic animals. They lessen the intensity of future wildfires by introducing natural firebreaks
and reducing forest fuel loads. Prescribed fires promote native biodiversity,
stimulating fire-dependent plants to reproduce. Prescribed fires are part of a sound ecosystem
management and restoration plan.

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