Parks Canada Management of Mountain Pine Beetle

Mountain Pine Beetle Initiative graphic

Parks Canada’s responsibility is to maintain ecosystems in as natural a state as possible. This means not only protecting individual components of an ecosystem, such as trees, endangered species or streams, but also protecting the processes that shape and maintain it. This is called “ecosystem-based management.” Parks Canada policy directs that native insects and diseases are natural ecological processes that should be allowed to proceed without interference if possible. However, the concerns of adjacent land managers must be considered, and where insects or disease pose a serious threat to provincial lands, intervention may occur.

A photograph showing a group of trees with red needles that have been killed by a mountain pine beetle attack. Red Trees killed by mountain pine beetle in Waterton Lakes National Park during 1980 outbreak.
© Parks Canada

Parks Canada’s “Guiding Principles and Operational Policies” (Section 3.2.3) states that: “National park ecosystems will be managed with minimal interference to natural processes. However, active management may be allowed when the structure or function of an ecosystem has been seriously altered and manipulation is the only possible alternative available to restore ecological integrity.” Policy (Section 3.2.4) further states that: “Provided that park ecosystems will not be impaired, the manipulation of naturally occurring processes such as fire, insects and disease may take place when no reasonable alternative exists and when monitoring has demonstrated that without limited intervention:

  • i) there will be serious adverse effects on neighboring lands; or
  • ii) major park facilities, public health or safety will be threatened; or
  • iii) the objectives of a park management plan prescribing how certain natural features or cultural resources are to be maintained cannot be achieved.”

The exclusion of fire for over 80 years has significantly altered the forests and wildlife habitat of the mountain national parks and created conditions that are ripe for mountain pine beetle colonization. Fire suppression has also resulted in a build-up of forest fuels creating desirable conditions for wildfire that could threaten neighbouring communities. In addition, the mountain national parks form the margin between the mountain pine beetle epidemic conditions in British Columbia and the commercial forests in the Province of Alberta. Therefore, the conditions for ecosystem manipulation and active management are met in the mountain national parks.

Parks Canada policy (Section 3.2.5) further states that: “Where manipulation is necessary it will be based on scientific research, use techniques that duplicate natural processes as closely as possible and be carefully monitored.” A goal stated in the management plans for all mountain national parks is to restore 50% of the historic fire cycle in order to achieve ecosystem restoration. As fire is the key process that has been disrupted by management practices, the use of fire is the key management tool for restoring ecological integrity. The benefits of correcting the ecological problem include a reduction in mountain pine beetle populations and habitat, a more diverse forest that is more resilient to insect and disease attacks, improved habitat conditions for wildlife, reduced threat of wildfire and potentially increased biodiversity.

Working together

In western Canada, mountain pine beetle outbreaks span a variety of jurisdictions, each with different land management mandates. Parks Canada is working with provincial governments, the Canadian Forest Service and the forest industry at a regional scale to monitor and manage mountain pine beetle outbreaks. The objectives of this management are to protect forest health, enhance wildlife habitat and reduce the risk of large forest fires.

What tools does Parks Canada use to manage mountain pine beetle?

Parks Canada works with adjacent land managers to coordinate management actions and promote a desired outcome for all parties. The results of these efforts are monitored and reported on. Specific management actions in national parks include:

  • Conducting research;
  • Modeling risk and susceptibility to mountain pine beetle;
  • Population monitoring;
  • Prescribed burning;
  • Removing colonized trees; and
  • Pheromone baiting.

These tools are outlined below.

To learn about mountain pine beetle research in national parks, click here.

Modeling risk and susceptibility to mountain pine beetle outbreaks

Parks Canada uses models to better understand current outbreaks, and to predict where future outbreaks may occur. For example, an “insolation model” has been created to help identify areas that are susceptible to mountain pine beetle outbreak. This model predicts prime beetle habitat by identifying areas that have similar climatic and physical factors that have predisposed areas to mountain pine beetle outbreaks.

/>A map produced from the model showing the red areas that are susceptible areas to beetle outbreak. A map produced from the model showing the red areas that are susceptible areas to beetle outbreak.
© Parks Canada

In addition to the insolation model, Parks Canada has also participated in the development of models created by the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, the Canadian Forest Service, and Foothills Model Forest.

Population monitoring

Large tracts of mature pine trees are monitored to look for evidence of mountain pine beetle activity, and to assess whether or not its population may be increasing or decreasing. Two kinds of surveys are conducted:

Aerial surveys

Aerial surveys are the most effective method of detecting the presence of mountain pine beetle over large areas. Annual flights locate “green faders” and “red” trees that were attacked during the previous year.

Aerial photo showing patches of red trees killed by mountain pine beetle adjacent to a river. Red attack trees in Yoho National Park.
© Parks Canada

Ground surveys

Once faders and red trees are spotted from the air, they are often visited on the ground to confirm the presence of mountain pine beetle and to investigate the severity of the outbreak.

photo shows a j-shaped gallery carved in the inner bark of a pine tree. A j-shaped beetle gallery identified during a ground survey.
© Parks Canada

Parks Canada partners with the Canadian Forest Service in conducting aerial and ground surveys to detect mountain pine beetle in the mountain national parks. To learn more, including information on remote sensing, visit this page.

Learn More

Prescribed burning

Mountain national parks are actively using prescribed burning as part of a beetle management initiative. Yoho, Kootenay, Banff and Jasper National Parks all use fire to renew mature pine trees that are potential beetle habitat, reduce mountain pine beetle populations, restore wildlife habitat and reduce the threat of wildfires.

What is a prescribed burn?

Prescribed burns are fires that are planned and lit by Parks Canada. Fire specialists take into account weather, type of vegetation, terrain and fire behavior when writing a prescription for fire. The prescription defines the boundary of the fire and the natural features, such as rock and water bodies, and man-made efforts, such as fuel breaks, that will contain the fire. Finally, the team outlines the conditions under which the prescription can be used. When these conditions are met, the team is ready to light the fire.

Fire creates a mosaic of burned and unburned patches in the forests of the Bow Valley, Banff National Park. Fire creates a mosaic of burned and unburned patches in the forests of the Bow Valley, Banff National Park.
© Parks Canada

Removal of colonized trees: cutting and burning

Parks Canada employs some short-term management techniques to slow down mountain pine beetle outbreaks. Cutting and burning of colonized or susceptible trees is one way to slow the spread of mountain pine beetle through mature pine forests. This operation is just as it sounds: colonized trees are cut down and then set on fire. Parks Canada is selective in where this technique is applied (i.e. in areas where it is appropriate to buy time – building fire guards – in order to use the prescribed fire, or in areas where fire can’t be used) and will only be used where there is a chance of successfully managing the rate of mountain pine beetle population growth.

photo shows worker with chainsaw cutting down a pine tree colonized by mountain pine beetle Jasper National Park: workers cut down tree colonized with mountain pine beetle.
© Parks Canada /Andy Roach

Photo shows worker lighting pile of logs on fire Jasper National Park: workers burn colonized trees.
© Parks Canada / Andy Roach

Pheromone baiting and trapping

“Pheromones” are chemicals that mountain pine beetles use to communicate with one another. They let beetles know where they can find a mate and a place to lay eggs, and when a tree is “full” and they should try another tree. Pheromone traps contain artificial pheromones that are commercially manufactured to lure beetles into an area. It is thought that the traps concentrate beetles in one area, making it easier to monitor their movement, manage the population and slow their spread. These baited trees will be monitored and if successfully colonized by the beetle, may be cut and burned or removed.

pheromone trap Pheromone trap.
© Parks Canada / Jane Park

Managing mountain pine beetle in Banff National Park

Parks Canada recognizes that mountain pine beetle in Banff National Park is an endemic species and recognizes population outbreaks as a natural process that should be allowed to proceed where possible. However, concerns of adjacent land managers who are responsible for economic growth through the harvesting of healthy trees are also important. Currently, low elevation passes and montane valleys that drain out of Banff could provide both suitable mature forests and climate conditions that would allow mountain pine beetle populations to spread into the foothills forests of Alberta, where extensive tracts of older lodgepole pine may be at risk.

In order to meet Parks Canada’s mandate while recognizing these concerns, Banff has created two areas where different strategies are employed:

  1. A monitoring zone - where prescribed fire will reduce the extent of mountain pine beetle habitat, thus preventing a large build up of the beetle population.

    Learn More

  2. A management zone - where more direct control measures - prescribed burning, pheromone baiting, cut and remove or cut and burn of colonized trees are used to slow the growth of the beetle population.
Fire creates a mosaic of burned and unburned patches in the forests of the Panther Valley, Banff National Park. Fairholme Range Prescribed Burn, Banff National Park, 2003.
© Parks Canada

Mountain Pine Beetle Operations – Banff National Park

March 6, 2008 – Over the next month, Parks Canada crews will be cutting and burning mountain pine beetle colonized trees in the lower Bow Valley. The work will take place around Tunnel Mountain, and along the Fairholme bench between Johnson Lake and Girouard Creek. Visitors and residents may see small amounts of smoke in these areas. These operations will take place prior to the end of March.

Mountain pine beetle is a naturally occurring insect found in pine forests in the southern Rocky Mountains and in areas west of the Continental Divide. Milder winters and an abundance of mature pine forests due to many years of wildfire suppression has resulted in an unprecedented northern and eastern expansion of mountain pine beetle populations.

The Alberta and British Columbia Provincial Governments, Parks Canada, Canadian Forest Service and forest industry are working cooperatively at a regional scale to monitor and manage mountain pine beetle infestations in Alberta in order to protect forest health, forest economies, community sustainability and recreational opportunities while enhancing wildlife habitat and reducing wildfire risk.

This is Banff National Park’s fifth season of conducting cutting and burning activities in the effort to manage mountain pine beetle.

As a result of cutting and burning activities over the last number of years, removal of susceptible mountain pine beetle habitat from the Fairholme range, and over-winter mortality, the number of colonized trees has decreased significantly from previous years. It is estimated that the population is currently in a static state, which is considerably less than the five to seven-fold population increases that were seen on Mt. Norquay 7 years ago. Parks Canada will remain vigilant and continue control work, in order to reduce the probability of high population build-ups and migration onto provincial lands.

Contact Information: For more information, please contact Brian Low 403.760.0934 or Rob Osiowy 403.763.7119



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