By Dan Rubinstein
In the early 1990s the mountain pine beetle outbreak began in British Columbia, wiping out more than half of the province’s commercial pine trees. The insect has continued its destructive advance eastward, breaching the Rocky Mountains into Alberta and now threatening the boreal forest in Saskatchewan and beyond.
Sustained by a string of winters that weren’t cold enough to effectively reduce its numbers, the small, wood-boring insect — about the size of a grain of rice — has laid waste to approximately 20 million hectares of mainly lodgepole pines in B.C. and Alberta.
To counter the challenges faced by forest ecosystems and industries amid this climate change-fuelled infestation, a group of Carleton University researchers are playing leading roles in a $6.4 million project with a pair of intertwined goals.
Carleton biologist Catherine Cullingham and her scientific collaborators — including Janice Cooke at the University of Alberta — are doing field and lab work to learn why some lodgepole pine populations have genetic resilience to the beetle and how forest managers and policy makers in government and industry can mitigate the risks faced by jack pine and other species.
At the same time, Stephan Schott from Carleton’s School of Public Policy and Administration, alongside Vivian Nguyen from the university’s Institute of Environmental and Interdisciplinary Science, is engaging with communities from Canada’s three westernmost provinces. They’re helping municipal officials, Indigenous groups, the forestry sector, conservation associations, hunters, fishers, hikers and others learn about what responses worked (or did not work) in B.C. and how people can reduce the impacts of the outbreak in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Regardless of their particular perspectives, the researchers are concerned not only about timber value, but also tourism and the ecological and cultural importance of Canada’s forests.
“You can’t just focus on resilient trees,” says Schott, one of more than a dozen Carleton faculty members and graduate students contributing to the project. “Human beings are part of the ecosystem, and we need resilient communities too.”
Read full article : Experts Work to Stop the Spread of the Mountain Pine Beetle (carleton.ca)