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Budworm could be on its way back to our forests

September 01 2014


Published March 21, 2014 

TRURO — A pervasive pest is finalizing travel plans to return to Nova Scotia.

The spruce budworm, which affected 1.2 million hectares of provincial woodland, mostly in Cape Breton, in the 1970s and 1980s, is ravaging a significant amount of Quebec forest and is now en route to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

“It’s working its way toward us,” John Ross, the manager of risk services and forest protection with the Natural Resources Department, said Friday.

About 3.2 million hectares were affected in Quebec last year and the infestation is growing each year, Ross told those attending the Forest Professionals of Nova Scotia annual general meeting at the Holiday Inn.

The budworm has been found just 25 kilometres outside the New Brunswick border.

“We’ll keep a close eye on it here over the next few years to see if the population grows,” Ross said. “We’re anticipating it will be three to five years before we see any damage.”

Ross said the super-pest never really left the province.

“The budworm is always out there, in the forest. Populations only increase when conditions are favourable. If the food source, which is the balsam fir, is getting to the stage where it’s good food for the budworm, that’s one of the factors of how it increases.”

The budworm destroyed about 80 per cent of the balsam fir in most areas of Cape Breton during its last 10- to 15-year invasion.

About 75 per cent of white spruce was destroyed and 55 per cent of the red and black spruce was lost.

This time around, the pest could branch out from Cape Breton.

“We have a different forest structure than we did back in the 70s. There is a lot less fir out there now and fir is the preferred food source for the budworm.”

Ross said there are a number of options available to combat the budworm and to try to minimize its effect on provincial forests.

“I’m not saying that we are going to have a spray program but that’s one of the options,” he said. “In the past, the product called BTK was used and it’s a bacterial culture that’s broadcast over the affected area.”

Ross said the budworm ingests the bacteria and it caused ulcers in the worm’s alkaline stomach.

“Then what happens is the budworm stops feeding and it dies.”

The bacterial culture does not affect humans, Ross said.

While anyone who witnessed or was affected by the budworm’s voracious attack on Cape Breton 40 years ago won’t feel too guilty about giving the pest stomach ulcers, Ross said there are other methods to combat the budworm.

“There are a lot of options out there. There are mating disrupters that are being looked at as well.”

And there are aggressive and selective harvesting plans.

“These are the scenarios we need to be looking at. If we’re smart about it, we’ll do the harvesting so that it minimizes the impact of the budworm.”

Ross said the province will monitor the budworm’s defoliating march through New Brunswick to see what does and doesn’t work there.

“We’re looking at what the possible impacts could be and how we might best deal with them if the population does increase.”


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