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Trees being burned on border of Jasper park to combat mountain pine beetle

Last Updated Jan 18, 2018 at 4:40 pm MDT

A mountain pine beetle is shown in a handout photo. Foresters and provincial officials are burning tens of thousands of trees along the eastern border of Jasper National Park in attempt to slow the spread of the mountain pine beetle. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Klaus Bolte MANDATORY CREDIT

EDMONTON – Foresters and provincial officials are burning tens of thousands of trees east of Jasper National Park to try to slow the spread of mountain pine beetles.

“There’s a lot more activity in the Edson-Hinton region, higher than past years, as we deal with some of this immigration that’s occurring,” said Mike Underschulz of Alberta Agriculture.

The province expects to cut and burn up to 90,000 trees killed by the beetles this year throughout the province, Underschulz said. Fully half of them will be in the Edson-Hinton region, where smoke from the burning obscured parts of the Yellowhead Highway earlier this week.

The area has seen a huge influx of the pests from the park. Beetle infestation in Jasper is considered rampant and uncontrollable, and foresters along its edge saw a tenfold increase in the problem in just months last year.

“We’re trying to limit the damage,” Underschulz said. “We’re trying to buy some time.”

Down the road, he’s hoping for a serious cold snap early in the winter to ultimately bring beetle numbers down.

Richard Briand of West Fraser Timber (TSX:WFT) says the company has moved crews from other areas of its lease to deal with infected trees near Hinton.

He said West Fraser has had to change its long-term plans because of damage from the beetles.

“The concentration of our logging around the community of Hinton is higher because that’s were the beetle is today. As we’re controlling it through our logging, we go to where the beetle is and that’s been around the town of Hinton.”

Underschulz said the province is spending up to $20 million this year to burn and remove trees killed by the bugs.

The good news has been that crews are finding fewer new trees have been attacked than previously feared. That’s allowed them to work close to the park boundary in an effort to reduce beetle numbers.

Underschulz said even without control programs, it will take years for the pine beetles to march their way across the province in significant numbers, especially because the makeup of the forest changes.

However, the Edson-Hinton region is likely to remain a hot spot for a while because of the vast reservoir of beetles within the park.

“We’re trying to keep the populations at bay as much as we can while the inflight from Jasper persists.”