Risk management specialists in this province are keeping a close eye on a potential woodlands threat that is creeping closer to our border.
John Ross, manager of risk services with forest protection, department of natural resources
The population of eastern spruce budworm, which has been a serious problem in Quebec in recent years, is on the rise here as well.
“Quebec has a budworm problem in a big way and we are starting to see signs of defoliation outside the borders of New Brunswick and that is a sign budworm is starting to come this way,” said John Ross, a risk services forest protection manager with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Ross was one of several forestry experts to present at the Forest Professionals of Nova Scotia annual conference held in Truro on March 20 and 21.
“What we are noticing in our province, we are seeing an increase of moths in trappings that we do,” he said. “That’s not necessarily a bad sign, but it is an indication that the population is growing.”
Spruce budworm is the most widely distributed and destructive forest defoliator in North America. Its favourite food is the foliage on spruce and balsam fir trees, the latter of which is the main Christmas tree species in Nova Scotia.
Ross said outbreaks of budworm are cyclical, recurring at about 30- to 40-year intervals.
“Historically it is time for budworm to come back again,” he said. “The food that is out there in terms of softwood is good eating.”
Officials warn that within two to five years, the pest’s population could spike.
The last outbreak in Nova Scotia began about 1974, lasted nearly a decade and saw the defoliation of nearly 1.22 million hectares of softwood at its peak, between 1976 - 77.
In 2013 more than 3.2 million hectares of softwood forests in Quebec were affected.
“It has the potential to do significant damage to our forests,” said Ross.
“Because it is early in the process we do have options and we are looking at options in hopes to manage budworm.”
Officials are monitoring the population through a pheromone trapping process at 147 locations across the province. The number of male moths caught per trap, year after year, provides an indication of population density.
“We are starting to see what looks like … an upward trend,” said the risk manager.
And Ross said officials are looking to develop “decision support tools” to be proactive, based on the trapping results.
An option could be to look at which forests are most susceptible to the pest and make them a priority to harvest or the application of a bacterial culture.
“If we can be proactive and do some early intervention it may be possible to hold the population at bay,” he said.
“The spruce budworm is always here. It’s always in the forest. It’s population increases when conditions become right.”
And Ross added that current conditions are ideal for the voracious pest.
Don Cameron, conference organizer and a DNR regional forester, said about 125 people participated in the event, which brought together members of the Nova Scotia Forest Technicians Association, Canadian Institute of Forestry – Nova Scotia Section and Registered Professional Foresters Association of Nova Scotia, along with educators and biologists.
“Things are changing so quickly in society and the forestry sector,” Cameron said. He added the annual conference is an excellent way for people within the industry to network with each other and experts from the field while learning about up-to-date information and science.