More than seven hundred million cubic metres of trees were wiped out in British Columbia between 2000 and 2015 by mountain pine beetles, a tiny species native to North American forests, according to Bloomberg, as decades-worth of lumber supplies are being eradicated across the world as a result of the pest's invasion. With around 2.2 million hectares having already been affected by beetles, the outbreak is expected to continue for the next six years.
The tiny creature, just 5mm in length, was once part of the forest cycle, but as winters grew warmer due to climate change, the beetles were able to survive in greater numbers and chew through tree bark, with flowing resin attracting even more of them. As a result, with thousands of the insects eating on the trees and laying their eggs inside, hundreds of millions of pines across Canada's timber-rich region were doomed to die.
British Columbia is Canada's largest supplier of logs to the United States, Bloomberg notes, with the beetle plague eventually signaling potential shortages for both the American and global housing market. The pests have already destroyed 15 years' worth of timber supplies in the province, material sufficient to build around nine million one-family houses. According to estimates by the Vancouver-based Spar Tree Group, the allowable production in British Columbia has been reduced by 40%, as it is believed that more than half of the region's marketable pine trees will be dead by 2020.
But that's not the end to the havoc being caused by the tiny pests. They are also spreading to neighbouring Alberta and the Pacific Northwest. And they're not alone, as their cousins, the spruce beetle, have also been destroying log supplies in North America and Europe. Germany and the Czech Republic have been especially affected by the nasty critters, experts note, with the amount of lumber destroyed in Europe from the spruce beetle invasion possibly surpassing those eradicated by their relatives in Canada.
"In the Czech Republic the beetle kill is bigger than their total harvest capacity", a managing director of FEA Canada, Russ Taylor, told Bloomberg. "They're fighting a losing battle".
In Canada, the only effective technique to get rid of the pest is to detect the affected trees from a helicopter, cut them down, chop them into bits and then burn them with a fuel to prevent the further spread of the vermin.
"You've got to utilise these dramatic, very effective techniques of cut and burn", says Caroline Whitehouse, a forest health specialist from Alberta. "Certainly it's a difficult thing. When you have an outbreak you have millions and millions and millions upon millions of beetles in the forest".
And as the world continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic, another battle with insects is also unfolding in East Africa and South Asia, where swarms of locusts have been endangering regional food security for many months now. In India, the insects have already destroyed thousands of hectares of crops in what is believed to be "the worst" locust attack in 27 years.