The Effects of the Mountain Pine Beetle on British Columbia's Forests
A research study by Will Ondrik
The Effects of the
Mountain Pine Beetle
in British Columbia
About the size of a grain of rice, the mountain pine beetle
is destroying British Columbia’s interior forests,
threatening the economy and environment.
The infestation is expected to kill about eighty percent
of the mature pine forests in British Columbia.
• To educate British Columbians on the astonishing impact
of the mountain pine beetle on our forests
•To discuss the negative impacts of the mountain pine
•To offer my conclusions
•To share my references
Forestry has played a significant and critical role in British Columbia’s
economy for over one hundred years. During normal economic conditions,
each year it generates about 18 billion dollars of product, adds 4 billion dollars
to Government revenue, and employs more than 200,000 people provincially.
The impact of the mountain pine beetle infestation is immeasurable. The
timber supply in affected areas has decreased. This, in turn, will have
significant economic and social implications to both the forest industry and
forest-dependent communities in the interior. When sawmills shut down,
communities often become ghost towns. When work is gone, workers have to
look for new places of employment – often outside of their present community.
Moreover, when families leave towns, schools and small businesses do not
have the clientele to continue. More lives are consequently affected.
Great problems require great imagination and creativity. People in British
Columbia have tried to make the best of this astonishingly difficult situation.
Some cut the infected trees to slow the spread of the disease. Others control
the fire threat that comes from large stands of dead lodgepole pine. Still
others try to maximize the economic value of the standing timber. This blue
stained “denim” wood is also utilized to build beautiful, unique furniture. There
will be a temporary increase in economic activity for affected communities as
dead trees are harvested before they decay and lose their commercial value.
Beetle-damaged wood retains its structural strength and other properties for
between five to eighteen years. In addition, young trees will be gathered
before they are infested. Sooner or later, however, the mountain pine beetle
must be managed in other ways – such as pheromone baiting which lures
beetles into a single area where they can be more easily exterminated.
Looking into the future, it is expected that forestry activity in British Columbia
will decrease significantly. Communities that once depended upon the
environment for eco-tourism and hunting and fishing practices will be affected -
the destruction of wildlife habitat and the bruising of British Columbia’s beauty
because of stands of dead trees. Who wants to hike through a forest of dead
With the mountain pine beetles infecting or killing many of British Columbia’s
lodgepole pine trees, the environment is affected. The trees are dying at such
a quick and vast rate that not all can be salvaged. Many dead trees remain
standing in the forest. After a tree dies and transpiration ceases, it dries out.
The tree becomes vulnerable to fire. Beginning with dead timber, once the fire
grows, it can attack healthy tree species in the forest. So, it would seem
reasonable and even wise to harvest all the infected trees quickly. That,
however, is not the case. The interconnectedness of the natural world means
that harvesting trees has an impact on other living things.
Pine cones feed many small animals and birds in the forest. The death of pine
trees creates a chain reaction. The smaller animals that eat pine cones and
pine needles are a food source for large animals such as bobcats, wolves, and
wolverines. With diminutive species leaving to find new food sources as the
pine cones disappear, the predators will also have to leave their normal habitat
in search of food. This creates stress and imbalance in British Columbia’s
Trees play a significant role in soil stability and water retention in any forest
and the surrounding communities. Surplus water on the ground is absorbed
by tree roots and then stored. Without this natural process occurring, water
levels increase rapidly whenever a storm occurs. This has implications for
flooding in areas which traditionally have not experienced overflowing rivers,
streams and creeks. Humans, businesses and homes are therefore
Trees are a part of the water cycle too when they assist in evaporation through
a process called transpiration. This refers to the process whereby water is
absorbed through the roots, moved through the tree and evaporated out of the
needles. In areas with trees killed by beetles, there is little transpiration
because the trees are dead. Moreover, eventually the needles fall off of the
dead tree and there is no longer a canopy cover for the forest. This is
particularly a problem during winter. When snow falls, there will be fewer
branches and needles to catch snow and to shade the snow on the forest floor.
The snow will melt earlier in the spring and make the annual water volumes of
our rivers, streams and creeks higher.
People are drawn to British Columbia’s stunning landscapes and ecological
diversity. Tourists from all over the world move to B.C. to visit, attend school,
as well as take up residence. As the forests are destroyed by the mountain
pine beetle, public perspective is impacted. The lush, green forests look
spotted with live tree stands among the brown and dead, as well as
indiscriminate cut blocks no longer hidden from the public’s eye. Beautiful
British Columbia is becoming bruised and there may not be many areas left
untouched by beetle infestation and tree-salvage. Tourism is a 13 billion dollar
industry in British Columbia. Is it another potential victim of the mountain pine
There are approximately 103 First Nations communities in the interior of British
Columbia that are located in areas affected by the mountain pine beetle. The
beetles are changing their lives too. These peoples lived sustainably for
thousands of years by surviving solely off the land by hunting, trapping, fishing,
and harvesting crops. Devastated by colonialism, their ways of life are being
critically impacted by the mountain pine beetle as well. The quickly
decreasing supply of available timber following a period of salvaging mountain
pine beetle- affected forests is changing ecosystems and stripping habitat from
animals that have traditionally been a main food source. The loss of forest
cover will cause more silting to happen in rivers that damages salmon
spawning grounds and therefore concusses the salmon population. Salmon
have always played a significant role in the lives of interior First Peoples. The
potential of this loss is distressing.
If global warming continues to happen at present rates, the mountain pine beetles
will spread more freely and eventually affect all of British Columbia’s lodgepole
pine forests. Already moving into the Grand Prairie region of Alberta, it may
continue to spread all over the country. In addition, the economy will continue to be
impacted because the impact of the mountain pine beetle on forests and forestry.
The 185 million dollar Northern Development Initiative Trust (with 32 million dollars
set aside specifically for mountain pine beetle recovery projects) and the 50 million
dollar Southern Interior Development Initiative Trust have been created to help
communities pursue more options to support economic growth and to create new
jobs. Many towns dependent on forestry have created regional groups to help plan
out long term economic sustainability. A manmade solution to this problem is critical
as nature’s rhythms have been disturbed by human industry. The same ingenuity
that invented the internal combustion engine must now be employed to hold back
the scourge of the mountain pine beetle.