Infestation of Mountain Pine Beetles in Provincial Park Robson

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Executive Summary

Robson Provincial Park has been facing acutely the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation, which is a major issue of forest health. There are a number of reasons for the spread of beetle infestation in specific areas of Robson Park, with three consecutive mild winters helping in beetle growth. In low height lodgepole pine forests of the SBS bio-geo-climatic zone, beetle infestation is in abundance. The issue of pine beetle infestation is interrelated with seral stage distribution and fire risks, which have been discussed while recommending management policy on Robson Park’s mountain pine beetle infestation. Treatment options have been suggested for single tree fall and burn, prescribed burning and selective tree removal, considering the overall ecosystem and environment at the heart of every decision to be taken and reviewed, and if needed, changed annually for the policy management of Robson Park mountain pine beetle infestation spanning a period of 10 years.

Introduction

Mount Robson Provincial Park is situated just west of the British Columbia / Alberta border and Jasper National Park in eastern central British Columbia. It has long been confronted with the problem of Mountain Pine Beetle Infestation. BC Parks centrally manages all fourteen parks that come under its management. To write a specific policy on mountain pine beetle infestation for Robson Provincial Park, it is crucial and mandatory to know what has been done by BC Parks in policy formulations for management of vegetation and tree removal policies for all parks under its management.

Infestation of Mountain Pine Beetles in Provincial Park Robson

For this we need to review the contexts and purposes that make vegetation management crucial for the parks so that any specific policy for Robson Provincial Park fits into overall conservation management policy framework of BC Parks. Controlling vegetation involves fire control, controlling insects & diseases, restoring vegetation, and harvesting plants. It is important to note that by following the long-term ecosystem saving concerns, BC Parks has addressed all the vegetation management issues. BC Parks management formulates policies from the guiding principles of legislative acts, namely Park Act (BC), Park & Recreation Area Regulation, Ecological Reserve Act, Forest Act, Weed Control Act, Pesticide Control Act, Waste Management Act, and Plant Protection Act among others (Vegetation Management 1999).

Review of BC Parks Vegetation Management Policy

It has been the policy of BC Parks to manage British Columbia’s park and ecological reserve system to attend to a number of important issues and associated policy management. The long list of issues include managing of representative native vegetation forms, identifying their changing type and reciprocation with the ecosystem – overall.  Associated policy for representation management considers all aspects of vegetation inventory and vegetation management planning (Vegetation Management 1999).

For policy on managing biological diversity on genetic, species, and ecosystem levels, associated policy follows two-sided approach for conserving totally the representative area and saving particularly extinct, endangered and endemic plant species.

BC Parks ecosystem process management policy covers a range of related policy issues. It basically includes natural ecosystem processes like fire, insects, disease, blow down, weather, grass eating by wild animals, and ageing trees management that affect vegetation. All possible precautions are taken in policy management to apply processes as naturally as possible to maintain the ecological balance (Vegetation Management 1999).

In conservation and use of possible vegetation, BC Parks has always given predominance to conservation over use of vegetation by visitors as well as sustenance use by aboriginals. In managing special features of BC Parks like extinct and endangered species, special habitats, distinct specimens, historical sceneries and culturally improved vegetation, policies are there for conservation management (Vegetation Management 1999).

Policy on ecosystem manipulation of vegetation has an associated policy on vegetation that allows removal of vegetation, disposal of timber, and danger trees on set habitat standards. There is a Forest Practices Code, which BC Parks management follows while using the forest resources. There are other conservation policies that BC Parks follows in managing restoration of natural ecosystem processes including revegetation and reintroduction. Policy exists for collection of vegetation for collection purpose, management of exotic plant species for conserving health and biodiversity of the ecosystem (Vegetation Management 1999).

 Review of BC Parks Tree Removal Policy

BC Parks follows a tree removal policy for parks and protected areas. Tree removal is practiced as an agreed management alternative for health and safety of people, for agreed development, for saving infrastructure, and for successfully managing forest health projects or ecological balance. Tree removal is separated from commercial logging, which is strictly forbidden; the formal is conducted without any negative impact on the ecosystem (Tree removal policy).

Generally, all tree removal projects need to follow the Impact Assessment Process. All such policy projects are made compatible to ecosystem restoration, ecosystem management, and vegetation management plan. Approaches applied are sensitive to environmental concerns.  New trees are planted in return to all removed trees. The associated policy forbids the use of generated finance for other than maintaining forest health. For single tree removal, it will be done only if it poses any danger to people and facilities around. Multiple tree removal is done if recommended by a neutral agency. Such a move is initiated for overall restoration planning of trees. It is also practiced when reintroduction of natural processes is limited due to human health, safety and facility maintenance issues (Tree removal policy).

For maintaining ecological balance and forest health, BC Parks management has followed the policy of applying natural processes for ecological balance in areas with impaired ecology functions; leaving fallen trees in the area of removal, for reintroducing natural processes like fire. To maintain forest health and meet restoration ends, treatments with natural processes have been given preference. In case of posing risks, such trees are considered for removal. Funds generated by tree disposal activity have been utilized in planning, inventory, restoration, and monitoring. Saved funds are spent on high priority provincial parks and protected areas conservation projects by British Columbia Parks Fund. In no way, tree removal and disposal activity is taken as a way of generating funds (Tree removal policy).

Background Information – Mount Robson Provincial Park

Mount Robson Provincial Park – part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks is a world heritage site. It was built in 1913 to save the Neighborhood Mountains. The Robson Park, second Provincial Park established in the province, has sprawled to 225,000 hectares by adding 5,956 hectares in the Swiftcurrent Creek area in the year 2000. It is situated in the central Rocky Mountains on the Alberta-British Columbia border, adjacent to Jasper National Park, 300 kilometers east of Prince George and 450 kilometers west of Edmonton. The Yellowhead Pass, situated on the east side of the park, provides a crucial trans-provincial transportation passage that divides the park. This route connects British Columbia’s Kamloops, Prince George, and Mount Robson to the Rocky Mountain National Parks and Alberta’s Edmonton. Although remote areas of the park can also be reached via the backcountry of Jasper National Park at a number of passes along the Alberta-British Columbia provincial border, the Yellowhead Highway (Highway #16) provides the main entry to reach the park. The transportation passage also has the right of way for the Canadian National Railway, a Telus fibre optics line, and the buried pipeline for Kinder Morgan.

Management Policy – Mountain Pine Beetle Infestation in Robson Provincial Park

Based on the variants, the Robson Park is divided into four bio-geo-climatic zones, namely Alpine Tundra (AT), Englemann Spruce-Subalpine Fir (ESSF), Sub-boreal Spruce (SBS), and Interior Cedar Hemlock (ICH).

Large stands of even-aged forests that are ageing slowly in Robson Park are in found in abundance due to the successful forest fire prevention since 1940s and the other reason being the burning of the travel passage due to the construction of railway line within the park in 1913-1915. This equally-aged class distribution of the Robson Park’s trees doesn’t represent the traditional make up and structure of the forests inside the park. Traditionally, forests in sub boreal ecosystem had large tree populations of early seral forests.

Like all other parks maintained and managed by BC Parks, it is ecosystem friendly and stress is laid on conservation of biodiversity as stated above in the review of BC Parks vegetation management and tree removal policy. Climate change is a big reason behind Mountain Pine Beetle Infestation in Robson Park. Three consecutive mild winters have helped in fast breeding and spread of was built beetle infestation. Although insect outbreak and other natural disturbances help in preserving the critical forest ecosystem of the Robson Park but such outgrowth comes in the way of free movement of visitors and adjacent areas.

In Robson Park, there are four different ecosystem management zones. Forest health management has an important plan objective to deal with planned fire and tree removal. While writing a specific management policy for Mountain Pine Beetle Infestation in Robson Provincial Park, it will be crucial to attend to these objectives.

Management Objective

Our main policy objective is to reduce mountain pine beetle infestations within the park and lessen its spread to Jasper and Alberta.

The Mountain Pine beetle epidemic has devastated the vast forest of lodgepole pine in the Robson province. Not just continuous mild winters but natural beetle population cycles and in plenty presence of equally matured pine forest stands are responsible for their expansion (FAQs). A particular stretch along the western side of the park in the Swiftcurrent drainage has seen beetle presence. This epidemic has been on the increase from the last three years, touching the Yellowhead Highway passage on the east, crossing Moose Lake. Stray incidents of beetle spread have been reported as far away towards east as Jasper National Park.

We cannot view the beetle infestation in the Robson Park individually. Earlier BC Parks policies have inter-related the three issues on forest health and ecosystem. All these issues are focused on main valley and travel passage that goes through the park (Blackwell 2005).

  1. Seral Stage Distribution: Lodgepole pine are in abundance in the low-heighted forests of the Sub Boreal Spruce (SBS) in the bio-geoclimatic zone in the park. This zone came into existence as a result of human caused fires while digging railway line in the park in 1913. Leaving aside two supports of Douglas fir and some area of white spruce found in humid areas, the average age of lodgepole pine is 92 years in Robson Park. From ecological point of view, lower heights of Sub Boreal Spruce (SBS) forests are similar in age and type and under the beetle attack since 1997. Literature review on the development of EMP has recognized the lack of old and early seral forest in the sub boreal spruce area of the park. It has been further elaborated by Delong and Tanner (1996) that outlines seral has attacked sub boreal spruce. That’s why seral distribution of old and early age class forests are lacking in SBS.
  2. Mountain Pine Beetle: A good part of the forest is infested with mountain pine beetle. It has been acknowledged that infestation cannot be stopped fully but it can be controlled from further engulfing the Jasper National Park (JNP). Falling and burning activity has been recurrent in the Yellowhead Lake and Jasper site for the previous two years to control its spread to JNP. It has given some time for treatment activities to further reduce its advancement to Alberta forests.
  3. Fire risk: Robson Park is highly risky area for fire, as seen in the Syncline fire of 2003; it has the risk of C3 fuel type where one burning period engulfed 8,000 ha. Within days’ time, it crossed 2,000 ha. Fighting wild fire management strategy includes making fuel breaks, scheduled burning and preparing for wild fire safety. A joint working group of federal and provincial organisations, British Columbia and Alberta have collectively planned wildfire management strategies. Strategies include community-level planning of fuel breaks, prescribed burning and wildfire protection within the province.

The Mountain Pine Beetle infestation policy for Robson park will write down the processes and recommendations for the coming 10 years to save forest health of Robson park, taking guidance from Provincial Pine Beetle Management Program Strategy (MWLAP 2003) and all previous management policies on vegetation management in and around the park areas that come under the jurisdiction of the Province of British Columbia. Also relevant to the final recommendations of the Firestorm 2003 report, will be the planning strategy.

Strategy Development Process

In the first phase workshops will be organized to review the issues, cross check the treatment options, and an initial verification of treatment sites that need to be prioritized. Over a period of 10 years, a further workshop will work on different combinations of site treatments. A cross-section of ministries – environment, forest – Parks’ officials, and related forest health managers will participate in the workshops to help in the strategy development process.

Management Objectives

Following management objectives have been identified to fight the menace of mountain pine beetle infestation in the Robson Park and adjoining parks and areas:

  • minimize mountain pine beetle infestations within the park and reduce its spread to Jasper and Alberta;
  • minimize wildfire threats to park visitors and facilities and adjoining communities; and
  • improve biological diversity within the park (Management Plan 2008).

Treatment Options – The 10 year management strategy will treat the beetle infestation in combining three ways:

Single Tree Treatments (fall and burn)

In single tree treatment, a beetle infested tree is cut and burned. BC Parks has been practicing this way of destroying the beetle crop in affected areas. When done on small scale, its impact is not durable in conservation goals but it is a good alternative to controlling low level incidents of beetle population before it reaches epidemic levels. It is a cost-efficient way of controlling the malaise. This tactic will be applied in the easterly front of the Robson Park (Blackwell 2005).

Prescribed Burning

Prescribed fire can be an effective tool of fighting the complex issues detailed above. It can change the seral stage distribution, thus minimizing the risk of beetle infestation and fire risks associated with tree mortality on a higher level. Prescribed fire brings changes in seral stage distribution; as a result area for single tree treatment gets reduced. Further it helps in reducing the scope of unplanned big and devastating wild fires that can have negative repercussions in the park and adjoining areas. Prescribed burning also matches well with the ecosystem management purpose of BC Parks (Blackwell 2005).

Selective Tree Removals

Selective tree removal will be practiced for the safety of general public, forest ecosystem restoration, and overall forest health. As commercial cutting is not allowed, legislative and policy changes will be made to removing trees. In the current context of Robson Park, tree removal will help in mitigating the risk of accumulated fuels to public and communities at large. The resultant fuel will be used for prescribed burning, to create fuel breaks, and in areas where it is crucial to slow down the expansion of beetle attack in the adjoining Jasper National Park. It will change the composition of species such that its environmental affects will be minimal in comparison to when experienced in Tweedsmuir and Manning Provincial Parks by selecting the landscape wide beetle mortality (Blackwell 2005).

Temporary access routes befitting standard rehabilitation will be made instead of using laid inroads for green attack tree removal, limiting tree removal activity only to Yellowhead Highway travel passage within the park in two particular areas:

  1. West of Shale Hill near the headquarters to the western side of the park near Swiftcurrent Creek. This will help in protecting wild fire community for the in-between community in the Swiftcurrent Creek stream and surrounding camp area.
  2. East of the Moose River to the B.C./Alberta border. Tree removal in this area will help in creating a fuel break in the east and any one out of fall and burn or tree removal of green attack as per the objectives stated above. Any tree removal activity will be in consistency of ecological goals, preserving ecosystem process and function like following natural disturbance styles at stand and landscape level.

A 10 year period strategy will have space for annual revaluation and resetting of priorities by actively checking results and prescriptions over time. Continuous monitoring provision for tree removal will be as per guidelines laid in management objectives as given in ecosystem management plan (Blackwell 2005).

Site Selection

Site selection for each treatment method will be based on an initial analysis of the pine forest cover, its stand age and practical aspect of treatment.

Treatment Zones

In Treatment type — Prescribed Burning – at Moose Lake site area, 2233 hectares of pine forests comprising 60 percent of the forest will be covered with average stand age of 103 years; at Swiftcurrent, 2,000 hectares of pine forests comprising 60 percent of the forest will be covered with average stand age of 158 years; at Yellowhead West, 3,100 hectares of pine forests comprising 66 percent of the forest will be covered with average stand age of 108 years; at Upper Fraser, 650 hectares of pine forests comprising cover area of 75 percent with average age stand of 183 years will be covered. Thus, total covered area for prescribed burning treatment will be 7,983 hectares (Blackwell 2005).

In Treatment type – Fire Smart Tree Removal – at Moose Lake site area, 39 hectares of pine forests comprising 87percent of the forest will be covered with average stand age of 130 years; at Swiftcurrent, 117 hectares of pine forests comprising 30 percent of the forest will be covered with average stand age of 88 years; at Headquarters, 188 hectares of pine forests comprising 50 percent of the forest will be covered with average stand age of 105 years. Thus, total covered area for Fire Smart Tree Removal will be 344 hectares (Blackwell 2005).

In Treatment type – MPB Tree Removal (single tree green attack only) – at Yellowhead West to the BC Alberta border, single green tree attack is required only within 6,945 hectares. It is 77 percent of the forest pine cover, having average stand age of 121 years (Blackwell 2005).

Applicable Conditions

  1. Nothing has been at the deciding stage in the above given data; they are just rough guess work except the Moose Lake prescribed burn and Lucerne pilot tree removal sites where work is already in progress. This is applicable only until such time when detailed prescriptions are developed, which can be changed after annual reviews.
  2. Data is not complete in all respects.
  3. Tree removal will be the last resort only if it solves the issue at stake and is environmentally conducive. MPB tree removal area, in which green attack tree removal will be organized, does NOT show that 6,945 hectares of trees will be eradicated.

Results — Mountain Pine Beetle Management

From Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) management angle, the advantages include decreased risk area and concurrent removal of green attack infested area. Prescribed fire and tree removal treatments will help in reducing alarming situations and high risks ratings to mild risks. It can be taken for granted that both the methods are equally effective in minimizing the MPB risk ratings as kinds of restoration prescriptions in both cases – main attention on mortality or getting away with mature lodgepole pine – are required.

Finally, about 2,000 hectares of highly risky area infested extremely with beetle would get cleaned up. Both the fall and burn program and tree removal program will aim at current green attack trees and areas (Blackwell 2005).

Fire Hazard Management

As mentioned above, the risk ratings after the treatment will come to low from high and extreme ones. Taking the total area infested with high and extreme ratings in each proposed treatment zone, around 4,700 hectares will finally be treated from fire risks.

Landscape-Level Biodiversity

Taking into consideration the past, current and projected (2019) areas for all seral stages – early, mid, mature and old – as defined in bio-diversity guidebook – help in deriving results of each seral stage for the ESSF, SBS and ICH.

ESSF:

  • Earlier fires in the Robson Park area that occurred in 1995 and 2005 have shifted the current area of early seral stage to its desired range.
  • The future prescribed fires between 2009 and 2019 would shift more area from mid seral stage to early stage, getting the desired range.
  • A good part of mature seral stage will reach to old seral stage with the passing of time.

SBS:

  • Earlier fires in the Robson Park area that occurred in 1995 and 2005 have shifted the current area of early seral stage to its desired range.
  • The future prescribed fires between 2009 and 2019 would shift more area from mid seral stage to early stage, getting the desired range.
  • A big chunk of mature seral stage area will reach to old seral stage by 2019 but it is an indication of higher landscapes-level MPB risk in the time to come.

ICH:

  • Since 1995 till today, there has been no advance movement in realizing set objectives in early and old seral stage.
  • By 2019, including the Swiftcurrent prescription burn, the early seral stage area will get the desired range.
  • A big chunk of mature seral stage area will reach to old seral stage by 2019 but it is an indication of higher landscapes-level MPB risk in the time to come.

It is expected that the proposed prescribed fires will help to realize the set objective of early seral stage area for all zones by 2019. There can be a small delay in the entry of old seral stage areas. Most likely result will be entry of long term seral stage area in the SBS and ICH as seen in critical increase in mature seral stage area. It shows the probability of an increase in landscapes-level MPB risk area with the passing of time (Blackwell 2005).

Implementation

There is less hope of any difference in policy planning and its implementation. Strategy implementation will require costs to be related to planning and management of Mountain Pine Beetle infestation treatment tactics – single tree treatments, prescribed burn treatments and tree removal treatments. Some income may be generated from green attack and fuel break tree removals. Different projects will be laid out such as:

-Time preference for the prescribed burn site:

  • Moose Lake = completed 2013
  • Swiftcurrent = Year 3
  • Yellowhead West = Year 4
  • Upper Fraser = Year 5

– Time preference for the tree removal site:

  • Lucerne Pilot area = completed 2013
  • Swiftcurrent/Park Headquarters = Year 2
  • Yellowhead West firebreak = Year 3

Final Recommendations

As per the information stated above and extended analysis of the Robson Provincial Park’s earlier ecosystem management plan, the following is highly recommended:

  • The policy program as discussed above for Single Tree Treatments, Prescribed Burns and Tree Removals should be initiated with full potential and willingness to get rid of the mountain pine beetle infestation of the Robson Park. It is very crucial for meeting the forest health objectives of the Robson Provincial Park and minimizing the dangers of beetle spread and wild fire. All working schedules of the plan will be assessed by particular site suggestions.
  • At least once a year or random meeting of the Working Group should be organized to review the visible results.
  • The Working Group should create annual implementation plans and bring changes in the 10-year planning process when ever its need is felt.
  • An effective communication strategy can be crucial in implementing all suggested prescribed burns and the Swiftcurrent/Park HQ tree removal programs (Blackwell 2005).
Works Cited
  • Blackwell. Forest Health Strategy for Mount Robson Provincial Park 2005. British Columbia. Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection. 1 April 2009
  • <http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/planning/mgmtplns/mtrobson/mtrob_forest_health_strategy_2005_update_report.pdf>.
  • Frequently Asked Questions. Mountain Pine Beetle and Provincial Protected Areas. British Columbia/ Ministry of environment. 1 April 2009 <http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/conserve/pine_beetle/pine_beetle.html>.
  • Management Plan 2008 for Mount Robson Provincial Park Ministry of Environment. 1 April 2009 <http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/planning/mgmtplns/mtrobson/mount_robson_draft_mp_june2008.pdf>
  • Tree Removal Policy for Parks and Protected Areas 1999. BC Parks Conservation Program Policies. 1 April 2009 <http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/conserve/cpp_p1/tree_removal_policy_for_ppa.pdf>.
  • Vegetation Management 1999. BC Parks Conservation Program Policies. 1 April 2009 <http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/conserve/cpp_p1/vegman.pdf>.

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