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Dead Trees and the Mountain Pine Beetle

Patches of red or grey coloured dead trees are all around western Canada. 
Most likely, the mountain pine beetle - a tiny little insect- killed these trees. 

It’s a shame to see that much damage done by a beetle. As the adult insect only measures 5 mm, how did it get this bad?  

On this page:

How the pine beetle kills the trees                        

Pine beetle epidemic

Human impacts                                                 

What can YOU do

How the pine beetle kills the trees

mountain pine beetlethe adult mountain pine beetle measures only 5 mm/0,2 inch
  1. Adult pine beetles gnaw their way through the bark of mature pines. 
  2. The females lay their eggs in the inner layer of bark, the phloem.
  3. As the beetles dig through the bark, they introduce blue stain fungi to the tree, and the tubes that transport water and nutrients in the tree trunk, strangling the tree. 
  4. The larvae feed on blue stain fungi and phloem.
  5. The needles first turn red, and in a later stage, they fall off.
  6. The dead tree turns greyish.  
  7. In the meantime, the larvae turned into pupae and the pupae became adults.
  8. Adult beetles fly out to new healthy mature pines and the cycle starts over again.

Unfortunately, this is not a nice sight during your travel in Canada.

Mountain Pine Beetle Epidemic

beetle-killed-pinetunnels made by the larvae of the mountain pine beetle

The mountain pine beetle is an insect that is common in our forests.
In a balanced ecosystem epidemics do not occur. 

Due to human causes, our forests ecosystems got out of balance and this beetle took advantage of it.

Human impacts resulting in an imbalanced ecosystem

  • Logging
  • Prevention of forest fires
  • Global warming


Once logged, the industry used to replant mono-cultures of lodgepole pines.
As the name suggests, the pine beetle prefers mature pine trees. Therefore, these beetles find themselves in heaven with mono-cultures of food and reproducing habitat.

Why we use lodgepole pine as lumber

- these pines have long straight trunks with branches only at the top of the tree, and
- lodgepole pines are highly adaptable and can grow in all sorts of environments, from bogs to dry sandy soils.

Last 20 years or so, more and more a variety of trees is replanted after logging. This helps to reduce beetle habitat for years to come.

pine beetle treesdead trees caused by the mountain pine beetle

Prevention of forest fires

Fire kills the beetles and their larvae. However, we always try to prevent or extinguish forest fires. Lately more and more controlled burns are scheduled. Wildfires will help reducing infestation.

Global warming

Global warming is the biggest cause of the pine beetle epidemic. When temperatures get below -40  C for at least a week straight, the eggs,  larvae and pupae will die. However, due to global warming these low temperatures are getting rarer and rarer....

What can you do while on vacation in Canada to prevent spreading the pine beetle epidemic?

It’s great to make a campfire during your vacation in Canada.
However, you have to realize that you can actually spread the pine beetle epidemic by moving infected firewood from place to place.

  • Don’t import firewood into Canada
  • Don’t move firewood around between Canadian destinations

Travel Canada while using local wood for campfires. Most campgrounds sell local firewood for
$ 4 - $ 7 a bundle.

Help save our forests for future generations.

firewoodMost campgrounds sell local firewood for $ 5 - $ 8 a bundle.

Wikipedia - mountain pine beetle
Jeff Mitton, University of Colorado

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