Alberta's War on Pine Beetles - Using a Sledgehammer to Crack a Nut

Alberta Wilderness Association

News Release: April 12, 2007

The implications of the impending outbreak of mountain pine beetle (MPB) in Alberta look to be profound, but knee-jerk attempts to deal with the problem - or to be seen to deal with the problem - will likely do more damage than the beetles themselves. Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) believes that measures to deal with the MPB outbreak must be led by the best available science.

The Stelmach government declared a state of emergency Wednesday over the MPB infestation in Alberta. But AWA believes that, in a climate of hysterical terms such as "crisis", "panic" and "war" on beetles, the real losers may be wildlife, watersheds and the Alberta taxpayer.

"We need to make sure that whatever measures we adopt are in the best long-term interests of maintaining healthy forests," says Nigel Douglas, AWA Conservation Specialist. "If we fail to listen to the scientific consensus, the potential for serious long-term damage to forest health, wildlife habitat and water quality is enormous."

AWA is not alone in raising questions about Alberta's approach. The Canadian Forest Service website states that "The magnitude of the current mountain pine beetle infestation means that intervention to bring the epidemic under control is not feasible." Unfortunately, Alberta has already begun directing companies and approving cut plans for mountain pine beetle control in critical caribou habitat.

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) supported a recent report by the Western Centre for Economic Research, Managing the Economic Impacts of Mountain Pine Beetle Outbreaks in Alberta. The March 2007 report concludes that "Potential fire hazard, environmental implications and visual impact are but a few of many issues which need to be cohesively integrated into MPB landscape planning and strategy."

Albertans themselves have clearly identified their priorities for forests. A 2006 poll for the Alberta Forest Products Association found that "82 per cent of 2,881 participants favour an integrated land management approach to Alberta's forests, taking into account environmental, social and economic sustainability." Asked what issue should receive the greatest attention of Alberta's leaders, 41 per cent said "sustainable forest management practices," and 15 per cent said "protection of habitat."

AWA fears that Alberta's war on pine beetles will not be without collateral damage. "We know that woodland caribou are at a tipping point in Alberta," says Cliff Wallis, AWA Director and Past President. "They can do well in forests which have been damaged by pine beetles, but they cannot survive in forests which have been harvested. There is no proof that these pine beetle control strategies have any chance of success but we do know they will destroy caribou habitat."

"The pine beetle problem has been brought about by decades of mismanaging the forests and Alberta's own contribution to global climate change," continues Wallis. "It will take careful planning and decades of considered science-based management to get us out of this mess."

For More Information

Cliff Wallis, AWA Board of Directors: 403-271-1408
Nigel Douglas, AWA Conservation Specialist: 403-283-2025