Likely signs of pine beetle near the Ram River Coal Corp. proposed Aries Mine Pit site west of Rocky Mountain House, Alta., Tuesday, June 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Amber Bracken

Pine beetle forest devastation has far-reaching impacts

Destruction of older forests could also effect flooding

The devastation caused by pine beetle invasion is hard to miss.

Millions of acres of red, lifeless trees fill B.C. forests and, to a lesser extent, Alberta forests.

Besides the hundreds of millions of cubic metres of marketable wood destroyed, the beetles have destroyed the habitat for much forest wildlife and left forests more vulnerable to wildfires.

The spread of pine beetle was aided by climate change, which reduced the length and frequency of the beetle-killing cold snaps that controlled populations previously.

The efficiency of modern forest firefighting efforts also contributed by leaving standing large areas of older, larger trees that pine beetles find particularly attractive.

Tree expert Toso Bozic said research is showing that the destruction of the forests could also have an impact contribute to the kinds of flooding that caused so much destruction in B.C. last year.

In B.C., forest researchers found that when a wildfire ripped through pine-beetle ravaged forests the fire burned much harder than normal, said Bosic, who offers consulting services to municipalities across the province and hosts dozens of workshops through his company Yard Whispers.

Typical fires will burn the trees but the soil remains undamaged and regeneration quickly begins.

“But the mountain pine beetle forest fire the fire is so hot that it starts burning the soil,” he said.

The heat creates a glaze on top of the soil and when rain falls it does not soak in like it should but runs along the top of the soil. That helped contribute to B.C.’s floods, he said.

As well, the sorts of mature forests the pine beetles favour are also better at retaining moisture from snow. Losing that also has an environmental impact because drier forests burn more easily.

Bozic worries that Alberta could lose significant amount of mature forests and face the environmental consequences.