Cold snap killed 95% of mountain pine beetles in some areas of Alberta, says biologist

Many in Alberta’s human population were struggling to find upsides to the deep freeze that hit the province this time last week. But the extreme cold did manage to get rid of most of the forest-destroying pine beetles.

Populations concentrated east of Jasper and around Hinton

Mountain pine beetles are native to B.C. but are considered an invasive species in Alberta. (Ward Strong/B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations)

Many in Alberta's human population were struggling to find upsides to the cold snap that blanketed the province this time last week, with conditions at times that made it feel close to –40 C with the wind chill.

An Alberta biologist is refusing to be a gloomy Gus, however, and says there is an upside.

"There was a significant killing of mountain pine beetle in those areas as a result of these very low temperatures," Janice Cooke at the University of Alberta told The Homestretch.

"We are seeing patches where we see better than 95 per cent death, so less than five per cent are living in these areas. We will know for sure when May rolls around and surveys are done."

That's two years of help in the fight against those devastating little critters that ravaged much of British Columbia and parts of Alberta in the 2000s.

"From last year, we had a nasty winter as well, and we saw in those May surveys confirmation that a lot of beetles had been killed."

Currently in Alberta, mountain pine beetle are concentrated east of Jasper and around Hinton.

"We also see them trying to make their way into the jack pine of the boreal forest, in the east-central part of the province," Cooke said.

The mountain pine beetle are tricky to deal with because they spend their entire life underneath tree bark, forcing the province to take a scorched-earth approach.

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"The province surveys for beetle-attacked trees in the autumn, creates maps and sends crews in the winter who fall them on the spot and burn them to kill all the larvae."

But even then, the most biologists can hope for is management, not complete eradication, she said.

With files from The Homestretch