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National Parks hold the line between Mountain pine beetle epidemic in British Columbia and Alberta's commercial forests

Governments and other land management partners work collaboratively to protect the economic value of forests and achieve ecological integrity objectives

About the size of a grain of rice, the Mountain pine beetle [Dendroctonus ponderosae (Scolytidae)] is a native insect of the southern Rocky Mountains. As do other bark beetles, Mountain pine beetles live throughout Lodgepole pine forests. While insect outbreaks are natural ecological processes that contribute to forest diversity, a 10-year beetle infestation—the largest insect epidemic in the province's history—is having a huge economic impact on the forest industry of British Columbia, especially in the west-central interior.

With the epidemic devastating the commercial forests of its neighbours, Alberta and its forest industry want to stop the beetles at the Continental Divide, which is also the provincial boundary and the location of the Mountain National Parks. Due to the long history of frequent fires in the montane eco-region and foothills, there have been few stands on the northeastern slopes of the Rockies susceptible to Mountain pine beetles. Several outbreaks have occurred in the Mountain National Parks. However, until 1999, there had been none in Jasper National Park of Canada.

Bringing stakeholders together was the first step in efforts to protect both the economic value of the provincial forests and the ecological integrity of the affected national and provincial parks. A senior management-level Strategic Direction Council was established to manage efforts to prevent, detect and control the beetle, and to ensure effective public communications concerning forest health issues in Alberta. The Council represents the Canadian Forest Service, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Alberta Community Development, and Parks Canada. Its goal is to use aggressive, short-term approaches to control the beetles in high-risk areas, together with long-term strategies to increase biodiversity. The Council also works with industry, interest groups, affected local communities and the public to ensure their interests are represented.

Mountain pine beetle
Mountain pine beetle
© Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service / P. S. Debman

In addition to the large-scale scope of the Council, Banff National Park of Canada is involved with the Bow Valley Mountain Pine Beetle Control Team. This regional working group consists of representatives from Banff National Park of Canada, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Alberta Community Development, the Town of Canmore, the Municipal District of Bighorn, industry partners and non-profit organizations such as the Biosphere Institute.

Annual monitoring has been replaced with aggressive monitoring for Mountain pine beetles on a coordinated, regional or ecosystem basis, in partnership with all land managers. Beetle population growth in the lower Bow Valley since 2003 has remained static and is even declining in some areas. Although it appears that the threat is decreasing, park managers must continue to be vigilant.

A management goal for all Mountain National Parks is to restore 50% of the historic fire cycle. The careful implementation of prescribed fire and the management of wildfire are gradually building public support for using fire as a management tool. There are numerous benefits related to controlled fire, including directly reducing Mountain pine beetle populations and beetle habitat, renewing forest health, improving wildlife habitat and reducing susceptibility to wildfire.

In Jasper National Park, approximately 27,000 hectares of prime-age Lodgepole pine-beetle habitat were burned, providing an effective fireguard on the south side of the Athabaska River Valley. In Banff National Park, the Mountain pine beetle population is being intensively monitored, and prescribed fire plans will be implemented as conditions permit. This area has become an important staging ground for ongoing scientific research to better understand Mountain pine beetle ecology, ecosystem management processes and their effects on both the natural environment and public perception.

Thus far, the program has strengthened inter-agency and industry working relationships and the effective management of public lands for future generations. The expansion of the beetle populations in the Mountain National Parks has been slowed, bringing short-term protection to Alberta's commercial forests. The results also confirm the theory that dealing with the growth of Mountain pine beetle populations early, before the population moves beyond the first stage of growth, can be effective in preventing epidemics.

Results


  • The expansion of Mountain pine beetle populations in the Mountain NationalParks of Alberta has been mitigated, resulting in short-term protection of the province.s commercial forests.
     
  • Strengthened inter-agency and industry partnerships and coordinated efforts have created more opportunities for multi-jurisdictional, ecosystem-based management.
     
  • Public awareness and understanding of the Mountain pine beetle and of the prescribed fire program have grown.
     
  • In 2004, the Bow Valley Mountain Pine Beetle Control Team received the Silver Premier's Award of Excellence.