The spruce beetle is spreading, according to preliminary results released Tuesday in advance of a two-day summit on the outbreak in the Omineca region.
Aerial surveys over the summer showed 210,000 hectares of forest damaged by the bug, up from 156,000 in October 2015. At 137,000 hectares the Prince George forest district is the most heavily hit while the remainder is within the Mackenzie district.
The latest figures are based on preliminary data from the 2016 overview survey. Final results will be available later this fall.
The summit is set for Wednesday and Thursday in Prince George and is expected to draw 100 academics, researchers, stakeholders and government staff to discuss best practices and the latest research on spruce beetle management.
The Omineca region contains nine million hectares of forest, with 4.7 million hectares available for logging. Spruce represents about 22 per cent of the average annual timber harvest in B.C.'s Interior over the past five years.
This past summer, the ministry committed $480 000 for spruce beetle detection, in addition to the $1 million previously announced for spruce beetle detection and research in 2016-17.
Actions the stop the spread have included a focus on logging spruce beetle-infested trees on the timber-harvesting land base and using "trap" trees in areas outside the timber-harvesting land base, such as wildlife habitat areas, or areas that are uneconomic to harvest.
Some licensees are actively harvesting infested trees in an effort to slow the beetle's spread.
"B.C.'s chief forester is also monitoring the situation to help ensure a balance between maintaining the mid-term timber supply, the requirements of other resource values, such as wildlife habitat and protected areas," Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said in a bulletin.
The spruce beetle is native to B.C. and outbreaks have occurred periodically since the 1940s, each one typically lasting six to eight years.
"Recent weather patterns, including warm springs, dry summers, warm winters and windstorms (resulting in more tree blowdowns), have contributed to spruce beetle population increases in the Omineca region," MFLNRO said.
"While the current spruce beetle outbreak is a concern, the potential for damage is not on the same scale as the mountain pine beetle outbreak that had a major effect on timber supply in B.C.'s Interior."