Heli-logging is currently underway in the Esler area of Williams Lake to assist in managing the Douglas Fir beetle infestation. Residents are asked to stay far away from the work to keep safe.

Heli-logging is currently underway in the Esler area of Williams Lake to assist in managing the Douglas Fir beetle infestation. Residents are asked to stay far away from the work to keep safe.

Heli-logging used in fight against fir beetle

Efforts being made to combat Douglas-fir beetle infestations around Williams Lake have been front and centre in Williams Lake.

Efforts being made to combat Douglas-fir beetle infestations around Williams Lake have been front and centre in Williams Lake in recent weeks.

That’s thanks to a heli-logging crew who have taken on the highly visible and dangerous job of removing infected trees within the city limits one at a time in populated areas.

During a presentation to city council at its regular meeting just before Christmas, resource manager Jennifer Bowman and district forest health specialist Kristine Wilker told council the areas targeted include 168 Mile behind the stockyards, off Hodgson Road in the Esler subdivision, and above South Lakeside.

“There has been an outbreak and you can see many red trees that indicate they were attacked last year,” said Bowman, noting all the sites were identified through an aerial survey as well as some ground probing.

“We have prioritized areas that need treatment,” Bowman said as she showed council a map.

A local forest health committee made up representatives of government, major licensees, smaller licensees, community forests and woodlot owners meets once a month, Wilker said.

“We are all working together to co-ordinate activities to address the Douglas-fir beetle kill. There are lots of resources going toward treatments throughout the entire district.”

The main focus of the treatments are to remove trees with current beetle attack in them from the forest and to take them to mills where the live beetle brood will be destroyed through the milling process.

Treatments include sanitation harvesting through contracts and small tenure holders and major licensees, using trap trees with an MCH (pheromone) application and falling and burning where necessary.

Helicopter harvesting will continue until Feb. 15, 2017, only to take trees that are currently being attacked, Wilker noted.

Once the treatment is completed there will still be red and grey trees remaining as those trees do not have any live beetles in them, Wilker said.

When asked by Coun. Jason Ryll if there is a safety risk to leaving red trees, Wilker said it is only the first phase of the project and that it is important to leave some trees there for habitat.

Wilker said the ministry has been working closely with Tolko Industries who has provided resources for probing information and noted Tolko will also be doing some sanitation harvesting in the beetle-infested areas.

Information signs have been posted encouraging site safety and reminding the public to stay out of the areas during harvesting operation and drones should not be used during logging operations, Wilker added.

People who have Douglas-fir beetles on private property are asked to remove attacked trees and destroy all infested bark before April 1, including firewood.

When asked by Mayor Walt Cobb how many trees will be removed in total, he was told about 3,500 trees or 20 truck loads from each area.

According to the Ministry of Forests, Douglas-fir beetle infestations tend to be cyclical and the last major outbreak in the Cariboo-Chilcotin Natural Regional District peaked in 2008, covering about 68,550 hectares. The volume of timber killed by the Douglas-fir beetle in the Williams Lake Timber Supply Area that year was about 172,534 cubic metres.

Government mapping data (based on aerial surveys conducted in the summer of 2016) indicates the beetles killed 81,223 cubic metres of timber in the Cariboo-Chilcotin Natural Regional District in 2015.