Pipestone Flyer


    Local resident, Ian Koop and 3 comrades packed up their weapons on January 23rd, 2014 and headed off to war where they will be engaged for the next 60 days. Equipped with chain saws, a quad on tracks, chain saw holders, a couple sleighs, fire extinguishers and other safety gear, they headed off to the Fox Creek region to join the battle against pine beetles. 

    Ian is a veteran in the Alberta pine beetle battleground having served for the past three winters. He will be forming two teams of two members each that will be joining many other crews to meet the challenge of falling 24,000 trees that are badly damaged or dead from the infestation of the pine beetles. “Our mission is to cut down and burn 24,000 trees but we are limited to 2 months because of fire bans and we need to have snow to prevent uncontrolled fires. Most guys up there are from B.C. where they have been fighting the pine beetle infestation for years.  I am the only Alberta crew working in that region.”  

    The crews will make burn piles throughout the infested forest and burn all the piles. “They (the beetles) are still going to spread,” explains Koop, “but every year we are getting a better handle on it. When they survey they identify infested areas that have a perimeter of 50 feet so we are providing the most effective control with the resources available.  Our sites are anywhere from 10 trees to 80 trees in one area.  We don’t have the resources to destroy every infected tree so to prevent the spread as much as possible we focus on the larger infested areas which will spread the beetle more rapidly the following summer.”

     The website  describes the Alberta Strategy.

    Pine beetles began appearing in northern Alberta in 2001, in pockets along the British Columbia border but in 2006, strong winds carried insects approximately 400 kilometres from central B.C. to the Grande Prairie region, infesting pine forests in the region.

    Today, six million hectares of pine forest in Alberta are susceptible to attack by mountain pine beetles. That’s approximately 15 per cent of the total forested land in Alberta. Approximately four and half million hectares of Alberta’s pine forests are within areas available for commercial timber harvest. More than 60 per cent of Alberta’s pine trees are mature trees aged 80 to 120 years, the age-class favoured by mountain pine beetle.

    Mountain pine beetles mass attack and kill mature pine trees within a year. In mid-summer, the adults bore into suitable host trees and lay eggs just under the bark. The larvae hatch and feed in the tissue between the bark and the wood.  Larvae develop into pupae, then to adult, and fly to the next host. The lifecycle normally takes one year to complete. The following spring, the needles of the attacked tree fade to yellow and then to reddish-brown. 

    The adult beetles introduce blue-stain fungi into the tree when they attack. These fungi, along with insect feeding, kill the tree by cutting off paths for nutrients and water. Each female lays 60-80 eggs, enabling populations to grow very quickly. There are often enough insects emerging from one tree to attack seven to 10 additional trees. The majority of beetles stay within 50 metres of the tree from which they emerge; however, others may fly up to 50 kilometres

Alberta’s mountain pine beetle infestation is still in its early stages so a variety of management treatments are effective.  The greatest potential for success in managing mountain pine beetle populations is when the populations are relatively small. Early detection is essential, because treatment of infested trees at the onset of an infestation is the only proven control method.

    Ian Koop, owner of Saws N Ladders, a wood business located in Wetaskiwin, has become committed to the battle.  “When you are up there and see firsthand what the beetles are doing it is amazing. Last year when we were heli-logging (transported into the bush by helicopter and picked up by helicopter at the end of the day) we could see how much the beetles are attacking. You see these red patches among healthy trees that the pine beetles have damaged or killed. We were doing trees 85 cm (34 inches) in diameter and 43 meters (140 feet) tall so you know how old these trees are.”

    Saws N Ladders has grown from a small start-up company producing 10 cords of wood 10 years ago. Today the company employs at least 2-5 workers at any one time and is made up of 3 divisions; 

• Tree Services – aerial trimming, mulching, stump grinding, and hazardous tree removal.

• Forestry Services – fall and burn (pine beetle), seismic, oil and gas slashing, fire prevention.

• Fire wood sales –has grown from 10 cords of wood 10 years ago to over 100 cords a season of bundled wood or loads of wood delivered to customers.

    “There is competition out there, definitely, from some bigger companies. But when people learn of our reputation, our safety record, insurance coverage, our tickets, gear and equipment we get work with organizations such as City of Wetaskiwin, County of Wetaskiwin, City of Camrose, County of Leduc and serve a region stretching from North of Edmonton, to Red Deer and east to Provost and west to Buck Lake and Edson.”  Ian is a certified chain saw operator, a certified faller, has a first aid ticket and can operate throughout western Canada with certification for oil, gas and government.

    “Alberta Sustainable Resource Development is working co-operatively with Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation, Parks Canada, BC Ministry of Forests and Range, municipalities, the forest industry and other concerned stakeholders to ensure all values at risk are considered when managing the beetles.

    Since the beetles spend most of their life in the bark, control must focus on treating the trees while the beetles are still inside. Trees killed by the beetle in the previous summer are identified by aerial surveys. The locations are then confirmed by ground checks. The only effective way of managing beetles is to remove the infested trees before the beetles emerge and fly. Removal of trees can involve cut and burning, cut and peeling the bark or harvesting the stand and milling the wood. If an infested tree cannot be treated before the flight, chemical attractants called pheromones are used. The pheromones lure most of the newly emerged beetles to a small area until the affected trees are treated.

     Forests have recreational and cultural value and provide 38,000 direct and indirect jobs related to the forest industry in Alberta. Forestry is the primary industry in approximately 50 communities in Alberta.

    Watch future editions of the Pipestone Flyer when Ian reports from deep in the woods about how the battle is going.