Gov’t play­ing beetle games

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion -

What do the spruce trees of north­ern B.C. and the pa­cific salmon at Big Bar in the Fraser River have in com­mon? Plenty. Both con­trib­ute big time to our provin­cial and lo­cal economies; both are in­te­gral to lo­cal ecosys­tems in which they in­habit; and both are in se­ri­ous peril.

And what don’t th­ese same spruce trees and salmon have in com­mon, other than the ob­vi­ous dif­fer­ences be­tween a tree and a fish?

A gov­ern­ment that cares about the sur­vival of both.

If you have driven through the Pine Pass the past two sum­mers, you will have no­ticed all the red trees be­tween Mt. Le­moray and Macken­zie Junc­tion. If you used to drive this same road a few years back, you would have seen a sim­i­lar red scene, just in slightly dif­fer­ent places.

Dur­ing the 1990s and 2000s, moun­tain pine beetle dec­i­mated our pine forests, on both sides of the Rock­ies.

This in­fes­ta­tion started in Tweedsmuir Park and spread east across B.C. and into Al­berta killing huge swathes of pine forests.

We watched as our once green forests turned var­i­ous shades of red, then grey, which re­sulted in many log­ging cut blocks as gov­ern­ment and for­est com­pa­nies tried to stop the spread and sal­vage some value from our pine forests be­fore they rot­ted.

To­day, the moun­tain pine beetle is pretty much a pest of the past. They are still out there, just not enough pine trees for them to dine on and sus­tain an epi­demic pop­u­la­tion.

To­day, we have an­other pest, do­ing the same type of thing all over again, and it is called the spruce bark beetle. This beetle does to spruce trees what moun­tain pine bee­tles did to pine trees. A few thou­sand of th­ese lit­tle crit­ters all de­cide, at the same time, to at­tack one tree, and by do­ing that, they over­whelm that poor tree’s de­fences. And they just love the big­gest and old­est spruce trees.

The bee­tles are now at epi­demic pro­por­tions in our moun­tain forests and that is what you see in ar­eas like the Pine Pass. I’m told it is the same in the up­per reaches of the Car­bon, Moberly, Sukunka, and Le­moray val­leys, as this is where many of our large, old spruce trees re­side. Mil­lions of th­ese spruce trees are now dead or dy­ing.

This is where the com­par­i­son to salmon comes in. Most have likely heard about the big rock slide at Big Bar, and how this nat­u­ral event has made it very dif­fi­cult for mi­grat­ing salmon to swim past. You also prob­a­bly heard from the many lo­cal gov­ern­ment and In­dige­nous com­mu­nity lead­ers im­plor­ing gov­ern­ment to do some­thing about this, and fol­low­ing that, gov­ern­ment spend­ing mil­lions of dol­lars to air­lift salmon by the slide to en­sure their sur­vival (i.e. spar­ing no ex­pense).

We can all agree that do­ing some­thing about the salmon is good, as it will help sus­tain our fu­ture econ­omy and cur­rent ecosys­tems. But what about our spruce trees? Shouldn’t gov­ern­ment be do­ing some­thing about this?

What you don’t see, and likely won’t, is any gov­ern­ment ac­tion to stop this in­va­sion. And quite to the con­trary, what you do see is gov­ern­ment im­ple­ment­ing po­lices that pre­vent any­one from do­ing any­thing about this. The re­al­ity is our cur­rent gov­ern­ment doesn’t wish to do any­thing about this epi­demic as th­ese lit­tle bee­tles are do­ing ex­actly what they wish for. The work of th­ese lit­tle bee­tles fits right into gov­ern­ments’ long-term plans for our forests and for­est econ­omy. Th­ese ar­eas where the spruce bark beetle are killing our spruce trees are the ex­act same ar­eas our gov­ern­ment wishes to turn into parks, pro­tected ar­eas or ar­eas for caribou to roam, free from log­ging and free from those evil cut blocks.

They have a very sim­ple strat­egy. It is called stall and wait. While our gov­ern­ment in­ves­ti­gates the im­pli­ca­tions of plac­ing th­ese large ar­eas of spruce forests as off lim­its for in­dus­trial pur­poses, the bee­tles will soon ren­der them un­eco­nomic for the for­est in­dus­try, as it is th­ese same spruce trees that makes them so valu­able. Keep the log­gers out and in a cou­ple of years gov­ern­ment will be able to an­nounce that the for­est in­dus­try has no real rea­son to go into th­ese ar­eas, as there are no com­mer­cially valu­able trees left to har­vest.

The prob­lem is we are told th­ese same spruce trees play an im­por­tant role in caribou sur­vival. When the snows are deep, caribou come off the moun­tain tops to feed on lichens that grow on th­ese same trees. As th­ese spruce trees die, they lose their abil­ity to sup­port lichens. And, in a few short years, 100 per cenrt of th­ese dead spruce trees will fall down, cre­at­ing such a tan­gle it will be a few gen­er­a­tions be­fore th­ese habi­tats are suit­able for caribou once again.

And then what will gov­ern­ment say? Well, we tried, but the bee­tles ate the trees?

It’s sad that an­other mill closes in our for­est-de­pen­dent com­mu­ni­ties. Not be­cause of us, just not enough trees to go around. Is there any hope? Not with this gov­ern­ment, and with­out In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties also in­sist­ing it to do some­thing about th­ese spruce bark bee­tles, noth­ing will hap­pen.

A sim­ple, flat earth view: this is what hap­pens to com­mu­ni­ties that think dif­fer­ently and have dif­fer­ent val­ues than the sit­ting gov­ern­ment. This is pure pol­i­tics.

— Evan Saugstad is a for­mer mayor of

Chetwynd and lives in Fort St. John.

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