Yeah, yeah, yeah, meet the beetles


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February 18, 2016 1:36 PM

Beetle-mania is making another wave, but instead of drawing crowds of cheering fans its bringing on the jeers of environmentalists.
The mountain pine beetle has been ravaging trees in British Columbia for some time and for the past decade has been making its way steadily east across Alberta toward Saskatchewan.
Though it hasn’t caused a problem in the Lloydminster area yet, government entomologists are concerned and have been keeping tabs on the area’s trees.
“We’ve stood traps in trees that will detect any beetles that maybe present in the forest in and around that baited tree,” said Dr. Rory McIntosh, provincial forest entomologist and pathologist with the forest service branch of Saskatchewan.
“We have that all the way through the west, north to the Cold Lake weapons range as well as south of the Cold Lake weapons range.”
McIntosh said the government uses these traps to keeps tabs on the beetles and track how far east they’re moving.
The Saskatchewan government has been working with its Alberta counterpart for several years, trying to control pockets of the mountain pine beetles, as concerns of them invading Saskatchewan grow stronger each year.
“We’re certainly concerned about the eastern spread of the beetle through the Boreal Forest,” he said.
Saskatchewan completed a full survey last fall and there were no traces of the bug in the northwestern part of the province: however, beetles have been found to the south in Cypress Hills for about 10 years.
Last year there was a reduction in the number of infested trees that needed to be removed in that area, so McIntosh said the early detection and rapid response methods seem to be working.
That doesn’t solve the issue though, as natural migration isn’t the beetle’s only source of mobility.
“I’ve been driving through Lloydminster, heading out to Edmonton, and I’ve seen trucks with Alberta plates on the Saskatchewan side with pine on the back of them,” McIntosh said.
“So any movement of pine products is particularly is a big problem.”
The movement of pine products is such a big problem that restrictions have been put in place, making it illegal to transport these products into Saskatchewan from Alberta, B.C. and the United States.
This season’s mild winter also has environmentalists wary because extended periods of extreme cold can kill mountain pine beetle populations — a factor that won’t likely come into play this year.
The dreaded bug is roughly the size of a grain of rice but the damage it can do has been known to shutdown entire sawmills.
“The female beetles will come out and test these trees to see if they are suitable hosts,” McIntosh said.
“They will come out of the tree and they’ll send out what is called an aggregation pheromone, which is an attractive chemical, which will then bring in a massive attack of males and females to that tree.”
The sheer number of beetles that attack the tree is enough to overcome its defences, and with the help of blue stain fungus carried by the pests, the tree’s resin ducts are blocked off.
These ducts are the main mechanism used to ward off dangerous insects and without them, the pine is left defenceless. 
Further more, the bugs lay eggs that burrow all the way around the infected tree, which could be seen as the final nail in the coffin.
The rest of Canada had relative protection from the mountain pine beetle via the Rocky Mountain Divide, but in 2006 populations of the pest in B.C. became so high that large numbers of them were lifted up in storm cells and carried over the mountains into Alberta.
They have been spreading steadily in every direction since but McIntosh’s advice for Border City residents is simple:
“One of the main things people can do is not to move wood around pine firewood with bark attached,” he said.
“That is what’s really important.”

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