The community forest staff are constantly monitoring the health of the forest in conjunction with the annual ministry forest health flights over our area of the province. Current VCF forest health issues include bark beetles, defoliators, pathogens, animal damage, invasive species and abiotic factors such as wildfire damage and drought.
Lodgepole Pine Dwarf Mistletoe is a pathogen found in most of our low elevation pine forests. It has caused severe damage to the pine trees and has contributed to the flammability of the dead and dying stands that we see around Valemount.
Infections by these parasitic mistletoe plants retards and deforms growth, reducing seed production and wood quality. Heavy, long-term infections can kill trees prematurely. Dwarf mistletoe induces abnormal tree growth at the point of infection, and produces a structure known as a witches’ broom, which contorts the typical branching structure. Dwarf mistletoes are small, leafless, parasitic flowering plants that kill by slowly robbing the tree of food and water.
In the springtime sometimes you can hear the snapping of the flower as it propels seed into the air. This is how mistletoe spreads seeds to infect new pine seedlings underneath the infected stems and other seedlings nearby.
The first symptom of dwarf mistletoe infection is a slight swelling of the bark at the infection site. The parasite is identifiable when the yellow to green or brownish-green segmented shoots protrude from the infected part of the tree. They form about 2-3 years after the infection.
Partial cutting that leaves mature, infected pine trees standing exacerbates the spread of infection to create a perpetually infected stand. The only way known to break the cycle, is to sanitize the area by clearcutting all pine stems.
Western Gall Rust also infects pine trees and is most often found in young stands and plantations. The stem rust kills the tree when the rust mycelium girdles the stem. The gall rust does not require an alternate host and is one of the most prolific of the rusts. The rust spreads by releasing spores that can travel hundreds of kilometres.
The VCF revisits all cut blocks and manages the new forests by pruning and felling infected trees and by planting alternate species where appropriate.
The VCF continually monitors for bark beetles. Areas identified as having Spruce or Douglas-fir bark beetles are firstly treated by falling trap trees that attract the beetles and removing those trap trees before the next flight of the beetles, usually one year later. Secondly, operational plans target those stands as a priority for harvest.
The Village of Valemount Community Wildfire Protection Plan (VCWPP) was commissioned in 2012. VCF initiated the process of updating this plan in March 2018 and continues to treat high risk areas around Valemount and along the corridor towards Tete Jaune. VCF is committed to help with fire preparedness for the community through planning and consultation.
Meetings were held with local agencies, the public and people who live adjacent to the most high-risk forests. The results of consultation were that some people were opposed to any harvest of the adjacent forest while others were frightened by the flammable forests in their backyards. Through this process, amendments were made to fuel management plans to accommodate concerns.
Some fuel management areas are not profitable to harvest as the trees are often non-commercial, dead and/or rotting. In spite of this, VCF continues to discuss and plan work with the Village and the Valemount Wildfire Base staff to minimize risk by creating fuel breaks that will be defensible in the event of wildfire.
Other fuel management areas around Tete Jaune Cache also require planning but are beyond the boundaries of the Valemount Community Forest.