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Canada's trees: Trouble at Point Pleasant

It begins as a tiny stowaway on a crate from Europe or Asia, a relocated piece of firewood, or just a mild winter. Within decades, millions of hectares of Canada's woodlands have been laid waste because of it. Armies of tiny insects have stripped city boulevards of stately elms and ruined billions of dollars worth of softwood. Since the 1950s, science has fought these invading waves of caterpillars and beetles using everything from DDT to pheromones and bacteria. But victory seems no closer in the fight to save Canada's trees.

The crown jewel of Halifax's park system has a serious blemish. A tiny European invader, the brown spruce longhorn beetle, has taken a huge bite out of Point Pleasant Park's 99-acre forest. Ten thousand dead or dying red, white and Norway spruce trees have been found in the urban oasis. Now the whole park has been quarantined to stop the bug from spreading. If it does, experts say Nova Scotia's billion-dollar softwood industry could be at risk. 
• The brown spruce longhorn beetle (Tetropium fuscum) is a brown-black flying insect that grows to about 2.5 centimetres in length. It lays eggs on the bark of host trees. Larvae then tunnel into the tree and pupate into beetles, which chew exit holes in the bark. The tunnels the larvae make disrupt the flow of nutrients throughout the tree. A heavy infestation can completely girdle the tree, cutting off nutrients and killing it.

• The brown spruce longhorn beetle is native to Europe. It is believed to have arrived at Halifax's port in the late 1980s, hidden in wooden packing material from either Europe or Asia. It was the first known occurrence of this beetle in North America.

• Based on Canadian Food Inspection Agency findings, on Oct. 4, 2000, federal agriculture minister Lyle Vanclief ordered a quarantine prohibiting the movement of all trees, logs or wood with bark in a 20-kilometre zone surrounding the park. Subsequent findings by entomologists recommended cutting down thousands of trees to stop the spread of the beetle. It was hoped the moves would stop the spread of the beetle to other forests, and avoid U.S. trade sanctions against Canadian wood exports.

• The cutting was fervently opposed by the Friends of Point Pleasant Park citizens group. The FPPP believed the Canadian Food Inspection Agency findings were based on inadequate science. The group argued that there was no beetle epidemic in the park, that the brown spruce longhorn beetle population was small and declining, and that approaches other than clear-cutting could restore the health of the park's trees.

• The Friends of Point Pleasant Park won a temporary injunction against the cutting in July 2000, but that was overturned in December and thousands of trees were felled.
• As of 2003, none of the beetles had been detected outside the 20-kilometre zone surrounding the park, or anywhere else in North America.
• The brown spruce longhorn beetle can survive cold temperatures and can be found in Siberia. It can fly up to 100 kilometres.

• Point Pleasant Park is a 186-acre park overlooking the entrance to Halifax Harbour on the city's southern tip. Queen Victoria gave it to the people of Halifax in 1873, on a 999-year lease. The lease cost one shilling a year, presented at the annual Shilling Ceremony. Its Prince of Wales Martello tower and Fort Ogilvie served as military fortifications since the late 1700s.
• The park neighbours the Port of Halifax. Its woodland contains 70 per cent red spruce trees, the beetle's favourite meal.

• Point Pleasant Park was badly damaged by the ice storm of March 2001. Hundreds of trees were damaged or destroyed.
• The park and environs were hit hard again in September 2003, when they were ravaged by Hurricane Juan. The park, sitting at the tip of the Halifax peninsula, was directly in the hurricane's path. Seventy per cent of the park's trees — some 55,000 trees — were damaged or uprooted.

• Point Pleasant Park was closed for months of cleanup following Hurricane Juan. It reopened on June 4, 2004.
• The cleanup from Hurricane Juan was also hard on property owners outside the park. They were not allowed to remove fallen wood from their property without permission, for fear of spreading the longhorn beetle.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: May 30, 2000
Guest(s): Gregg Cunningham, Ernie Fage, Bill Freedman
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Laurie Graham
Duration: 2:07

Last updated: February 3, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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