The infestation of Douglas-fir bark beetles that took over 90 hectares of forest just outside Nelson is a sign of what one local expert calls an impending provincial catastrophe.
Gerald Cordeiro, a forest development manager with Kalesnikoff Lumber, first alerted Nelson city council to the infestation in October 2017. On Monday he returned to say the infestation had been mostly been removed, but the entire region is vulnerable.
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call it a crisis,” said Cordeiro. “It’s not on the scale of the mountain pine beetle, but fir forests are generally not on the scale of pine forests in B.C., or what we used to have as a pine forest.
“We have some really heavily fir-dominated forests [in the Kootenays], especially on our south and west aspects. We’re going to see some pretty devastating effects.”
Cordeiro said a cutting permit was granted by the forest ministry to remove infested trees. Trap trees, which are fallen healthy trees, were also used to attract beetles. Those trees were in turn taken to a mill and destroyed along with the beetles inside.
Although the majority of the infestation was removed, Cordeiro said beetles still likely exist at the Ward Creek and Wee Selous Creek sites because those locations were not accessible.
He also warned the infestation could return to Selous Creek, which serves as a secondary water source for Nelson that is used in the summer to support the main source at Five Mile Creek.
“You have to continually monitor it because the bugs are very mobile, they fly. We could reduce to an endemic population in one area and they could fly in from a neighbouring watershed in a very short period of time.”
Douglas-fir bark beetles kill trees within one to two years, after which the infested wood cannot be salvaged.
A 2018 report by the provincial government found 78,471 hectares of forest infested by the beetle.
Cordeiro pointed to developing infestations on the North Shore and around Kokaneee Creek, and added some beetles have already been found on private properties within city limits.
“I would say it’s almost becoming ubiquitous in the fir forests around Nelson.”
Fire break proposed
As the infestation grows, so too does the possibility of previously green trees becoming more likely to burn.
Cordeiro said Kalesnikoff has begun a planning process in partnership with the Regional District of Central Kootenay that would build an estimated 150-hectare fire break in the Selous Creek area.
“It involves a sort of light touch, selective cut to remove the most flammable, most at-risk, what we would call climate change loser trees, unfortunately,” he said.
“Those being cedar and hemlock that carry that really scary Crown fire. So the idea is to reduce the amounts of those trees, open the canopy up a little bit, [and] promote more broad leaf species and brush.”
Cordeiro added the company will engage in public consultation as part of the planning.
He also said he’s exploring how agroecology, which is the study of how ecological processes can be applied to agricultural production, might be used to find new uses for land undergoing fuel mitigation.
As forests are thinned and canopies opened up, Cordeiro said, the space can still be used to provide for societal needs such as food security.
“I don’t have all the answers right now but I feel the concept is good, that we can get back some other benefits from those forests so we’re not just managing them for timber or aesthetics,” he said.
“We’re going to be managing them for fire hazard so let’s take advantage of whatever opportunity that throws at us.”