B.C. wildfires burned large areas affected by mountain pine beetles: Experts

The mountain pine beetle epidemic affected more than 180,000 square kilometres in B.C.

Clearing or burning beetle ravaged forests may be costly but could mitigate against the kind of massive wildfires that have been seen in British Columbia the last two summers, say researchers.

They say a large proportion of the forests that burned this year were affected by the mountain pine beetle about a decade ago.

The mountain pine beetle epidemic affected more than 180,000 square kilometres. By comparison, the wildfires burned about 12,000 square kilometres last year and 13,000 square kilometres this year.

Daniel Perrakis, a fire research scientist with Natural Resources Canada, said removal of dead wood from the affected areas would also remove fuel for fires.

But, he added, the affected area is huge and it would take money and effort to tackle.

Perrakis said trees that were affected by the mountain pine beetle but still had viable wood were sent to mills to be turned into boards and paper. What is left now is partly decayed or dead wood.

Prescribed burns are another option that is already used by neighbouring Alberta, he said.

But these options come with ecological consequences, such as soil degradation and the introduction of invasive species caused by the widespread use of machinery in forests. Dead wood can also be used as habitat for many organisms in forests, so while removing it can help make forests safer from fires, it can also reduce the health of these fragile ecosystems as they adapt to the death of the overstorey trees, Perrakis said.

And then there is the introduction of smoke in the air in spring or fall when the weather is mild and prescribed burns can be conducted.

“There are ways to tackle the problems on our own terms rather than waiting for these very dangerous and uncontrollable fires to occur,” Perrakis said. “So, there are options, but they are not simple, and they are not risk free and not cheap.”

In B.C., about 40 to 50 per cent of the area that burned this year was ravaged by the mountain pine beetle in the early 2000s, he said.

“The past two years the big, big wildfire seasons have affected disproportionately the areas that were mountain pine beetle affected.”

Chris Stockdale, a fire research scientist with the Northern Forestry Centre at Natural Resources Canada, said there’s very little of British Columbia’s pine forests left unaffected by the mountain pine beetle.

“The mountain pine beetle pretty much ate itself out of house and home in British Columbia,” he said.

The B.C. Ministry of Forests said there were some areas of overlap between the wildfires and beetle-attacked forests. In 2017, it’s estimated that two-thirds of the fires occurred in green stands and about one-third in dead stands. The ministry said while wildfire spreads more quickly through dead beetle-attacked trees, scientists who study wildfires say more research is needed on it.

Perrakis said wildfires spread slightly faster in forests where the mountain pine beetle has laid an area to waste, simply because there is more wood and fuel on the ground.

“Maybe the fire just smoulders for longer.”

He said evidence from a 2014 study shows flames spread two to three times faster through crowns of trees studded with mountain pine beetle-affected red needles than healthy green forests.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Former MP Wayne Stetski running for BC NDP in Kootenay East

Former federal MP Wayne Stetski is running as the BC NDP candidate… Continue reading

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3

World Farm Animals Day, Drink Beer Day and Virus Appreciation Day are all coming up this week

Two new COVID-19 cases reported in Interior Health

The total number of Interior Health cases since the beginning of the pandemic is now at 522

Local wakesurfers hit the podium, will compete at world championship

Local wakesurfers hit the podium during a national competition at Lake Okanagan… Continue reading

It happened in 1913

Sept. 20 - 26: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the newspapers at the Cranbrook History Centre and Archives

QUIZ: Do you know what’s on TV?

Fall is normally the time when new television shows are released

B.C. VOTES 2020: B.C. Liberals vow to eliminate sales tax for a year

From 7% to zero, then back in at 3% to stimulate economy

The holiday everyone needs this year: Vote for your favourite in Fat Bear Week 2020

Voters will get to decide who gets to take home this year’s most coveted prize

Canadian ski resorts wrestle with pandemic-vs.-profit dilemma as COVID-19 persists

Few are actually restricting the total number of skiers they allow on the hill

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Victoria-area RCMP locate high-risk sex offender thanks to help of taxi cab driver

Scott Jones wanted on a Canada-wide warrant, ‘a risk to women and girls,’ police say

A (virtual) walk around the world by 88-year-old B.C. man

George Doi says it’s simple: ‘I like walking’

End of CERB means uncertainty for some, new system for others

As of a week ago, the CERB had paid out $79.3 billion to 8.8 million people

Most Read