Sask. puts more cash toward fighting pine beetles in northern Alta.

The Saskatchewan government is putting more money into an action plan to control the spread of the mountain pine beetle into the province.

Mountain pine beetle had major impact on B.C. commercial forestry

Mountain pine beetles are described as 'generalists' when it comes to trees they infest, says research scientist Katherine Bleiker. (Ward Strong/B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations)

Saskatchewan has approved another $300,000 toward the continued implementation of a strategy to try and stop the spread of a beetle that has devastated forests further west.

That brings the amount of cash available from Saskatchewan to fight the mountain pine beetle in northern Alberta this fiscal year to $800,000 total.

The mountain pine beetle affected forests in British Columbia with particularly bad outbreaks in the '80s and '90s, and has spread into Alberta. It's native to Canada but is spreading beyond its historic geographic range and into the boreal forest.

There are about 34,000,000 hectares of boreal forest in Saskatchewan, with 11.7 million of those hectares falling in the commercial forest zone. Forestry is the second largest industry in northern Saskatchewan, accounting for nearly $1 billion in forest product sales in 2016.

The governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan have been involved in multi-year agreements where Saskatchewan helps with the control of the beetles in Alberta, particularly in the northeastern area from Fort McMurray to Lac La Biche.

Early detection through surveying the trees, and removal of infected trees is part of how the beetles' spread is being controlled. 

"You cut it down and you burn it — that's the only thing you can do with it," said Rory McIntosh, forest and insect disease expert for Saskatchewan's Ministry of Environment.

The mountain pine beetle has not yet been found in Saskatchewan's boreal forest but the province is keeping an eye on Alberta's infestation. (Hunter McRae/The Gazette/The Associated Press)

McIntosh said the beetle has not yet crossed into Saskatchewan's boreal forest but a beetle was found in a baited tree within 38 kilometres of the provincial border on the Cold Lake weapons range, which also stretches into Saskatchewan.

"It was a single beetle in a single tree and it wasn't doing very well," McIntosh said, adding baited trees are used to monitor the bugs.

"But the point is beetles are in the forest that close to our border and that's part of the purpose of what we're doing."

McIntosh said the more that can be invested to knock the beetle down and back in Alberta, the better the opportunity to slow the spread. The more reactive measure of controlling it once it's in the province would be more costly, he added.

According to Natural Resources Canada, long-distance dispersal of the beetle — more than 100 km — has been documented with ideal weather conditions.

A close up of a tree in Jasper National Park shows tiny holes where the beetles have entered. (CBC)

B.C.'s experience

The pest ravaged the forests of B.C., affecting more than 18,000,000 hectares of forest.

Katherine Bleiker, a research scientist who studies the biology and ecology of bark beetles, including the mountain pine beetle, for the Pacific Forestry Centre in B.C, said the bug largely affected lodge pole pines in B.C. due to their abundance, but that the mountain pine beetle will infest most pine species.

"We have a large timber industry and we lost over half of our mature lodge pole pine, which was our number one commercial species in our province. So, it had a huge impact," Bleiker said of the beetle's effect.

She said lower populations of the beetles might not kill trees, but that also makes them harder to detect.

Bleiker said the forests out west are recovering. She added that the effects a beetle infestation will have on a boreal forest after recovery are still unknown.