Jennifer MacCormick of Alberta Ag & Forestry started things off at the June 13 SLPAC meeting with an update on efforts to control the spread of the mountain pine beetle. Over the past winter, she said, 4,400 infected trees were ‘controlled.’ That means cut down and burned. Provincially, the number was around 100,000.
Asked how that compares to past years, MacCormick said, “Down a lot this year.” She said 8,000 trees was the number destroyed in the district the previous winter.
Whether the extreme cold in the month of February had much of an impact on the beetle is not yet known for sure. Research shows that a temperature of -37.5C under the bark is what’s needed, and it works better if it comes early or late in the season. February is neither of those.
Surveying the forest for the next round of beetle-killed pines begins in August.
The biggest all-time
Most of what was shared at the meeting on the recent fires has been reported elsewhere. One interesting fact was that the McMillan Complex of fires amounts to the biggest ever in the Slave Lake Forest.
And this caution, from Wildfire Information Officer Leah Lovequist: “Rain does not put out a fire. We have many months of firefighting here.”
Lovequist subsequently provided a list of Slave Lake district fires by size, historically. After the McMillan at about 270,000 hectares the biggest was the 1968 Vega Fire, at 133,000. The 2001 Chisholm Fire, at 116,000 ha. is next. The Utikuma Fire of 2011 got to 87,659 ha and the Mitsue Fire of 1998 stopped just short of 50,000 ha. The sixth biggest fire in the district since these things have been recorded was the Zigzag Fire of 2010, at 33,000 ha.
“To be honest,” said Executive director Patti Campsall, of the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory, “birds are in trouble.” This was in response to a question about survival rates. The LSLBO monitors migration of songbirds from its station on the shore of the lake in Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park. A class of birds called ‘aerial insectivores’ might be in trouble, Campsall said, due to earlier springs. The timing of their migration seems to be “hard-wired,” to coincide with the “explosion” of insects in the northern forests.
Other news: The Nest at the Boreal Centre is closed this summer for renovations.
Forest management plan
A forest management plan for a large area around Lesser Slave Lake is in the works, conducted jointly by West Fraser, Vanderwell Contractors and Tolko Industries. Kyle Chisholm of Vanderwell’s provided the update on how it’s going and fielded questions.
One of the questions had to do with the impact of the recent wildfires; will harvest plans change? They likely will, said Chisholm. In fact some estimates on the damage had already been made. In Forest Management Unit S-18, for example, 50,000 hectares of harvestable forest had been burned. Al-Pac figures it lost 1.3 million cubic metres of wood the McMillan Complex fires, Chisholm added.
Public input is part of the forest management planning process. Open houses will be held in the fall. People can provide comments online, at lslrfmp.com. Consultation is in process with 12 First Nations and three Metis Settlements, Chisholm said. One participant suggested there are more than that with an interest and all should be consulted.