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

Six boat wrecks wash up on Cadboro Bay beaches over the weekend

Dead Boat Society working with Oak Bay, Saanich to clear derelict boats

Former Sidney mayor calls on local MLA Adam Olsen to resign over protests

Olsen has rejected the demand, calling Price’s language divisive and responsible for polarization

Victoria hotel awards couples for baby-making with Valentine’s freebie

Have a baby nine months after your stay and enjoy 18-year Valentines deal

UPDATED: One-sailing wait from Swartz Bay ferry terminal after morning protest

Movement in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en First Nation

Vancouver Island Pride weekend returns to Mount Washington Alpine Resort

Building on the success of last year’s family-friendly pride festival on Vancouver… Continue reading

Scarlett Point lighthouse keeper wins a million bucks playing the lottery

“I usually just get a quick pick, so I didn’t expect to win a big prize”

Poll suggests some don’t think Canada should send troops to stop genocide

The findings are being released just before the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz

B.C. woman crowned the fastest female marathon runner in Canadian history

Malindi Elmore ran an incredible 2:24:50 at the Houston Marathon

Alberta bulldog breeder ordered to give refund to B.C. buyer due to puppy’s behaviour

Tribunal ruled a verbal agreement to send a new dog superseded the written contract

UPDATED: Man dies in backcountry near Nelson’s Whitewater Ski Resort

The victim was found unresponsive in a tree well Friday

Cariboo Memorial Hospital on the mend after cold weather wreaks havoc

Burst pipes and water leaks cause three different incidents

Site of planned Jumbo Valley ski resort to be protected, managed by First Nations

Development rights permanently retired for site of proposed year-round ski resort west of Invermere

Most Read