By CHRISTOPHER MAJKA*
HALIFAX (26 January 2007) - THE Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has proposed creating a quarantine zone in Nova Scotia the size of Prince Edward Island that would encompass all of Halifax County and portions of Colchester and Hants counties. This is apparently to try and contain what the CFIA considers an ever-proliferating infestation of the brown spruce longhorn beetle (BSLB) whose scientific name is Tetropium fuscum.
At a meeting on 3 January 2007 in Lawrencetown, NS, many woodlot owners in the region expressed fears that their livelihoods would be destroyed by such an expansive zone, questioned the need for it, and vowed to fight such measures. Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) Councilor Steve Streatch has proposed that quarantined wood could be burned or converted to biofuel to replace lost income, or that all marketable timber in potentially affected areas be harvested immediately.
An ocean of ink has been spilled on this subject, and much could be further discussed and debated. However, before rushing to implement panicked measures, it is worthwhile asking a fundamental question - is the brown spruce longhorn beetle of any concern at all to forests in Nova Scotia, or to the province's forest industry? Or, in other words, does the brown spruce longhorn beetle attack healthy trees? Why is this important? Simply put, if the beetle poses no threat to healthy trees in either natural forests or tree plantations, then there is no pressing need for an eradication campaign, no need for a quarantine zone, and no need to impact the livelihoods of many Nova Scotia woodlot owners. Also, no need to denude the HRM landscape, burn our timber, or turn our forests into biofuel.
Given that the CFIA has been battling the beetle in Nova Scotia for the past seven years, Nova Scotians might well think that agency scientists had long ago answered this question - but nothing could be further from the truth. They might, indeed, think that determining the answer to this question would be the very first thing that the CFIA would do. If there is no threat, than there is no problem, and no need for the massive expenditures of funds on eradication programs.
It is not, however, considered a threat to healthy trees in forests or plantations. Why? Like the vast majority of longhorn beetles it feeds on dead and dying wood.
In our injunction to stop the CFIA from cutting trees in Point Pleasant Park, FPPP therefore argued that there seemed little likelihood that in Nova Scotia the BSLB's habits would be any different. Hence there was no need for a panicked response. It appeared that affected trees in Point Pleasant Park were sick and dying for other reasons, and that a large suite of beetles and other insects responsible for the natural decay of wood were colonizing these trees, just like they naturally do in forests throughout Nova Scotia. My research in Point Pleasant Park found 23 other native species of longhorn beetles (in addition to the BSLB), 9 species of metallic wood-boring beetles, 28 species of bark beetles, and many other insects colonizing the dying trees.
Moreover, two other native species of longhorn beetles, Tetropium cinnamopterum and Tetropium schwarzianum, are found in the province. These beetles are exceedingly similar to Tetropium fuscum (the BSLB), both in appearance and in ecology, and neither of them are of concern to healthy trees and forests. It seemed quite unlikely that the BSLB would behave differently than these native species already present in Nova Scotia's forests.
It appeared to FPPP that the BSLB was doing exactly what it does throughout Eurasia - feeding on dead and dying trees. At the time, the CFIA (on the basis of no evidence at all) argued that the beetle had changed its habits and was attacking healthy trees. In 2000 no research had been conducted in Nova Scotia to decide this question one way or the other, and therefore cutting proponents argued that on the basis of the "precautionary principle" action (i.e. cutting) ought to be taken at once.
So, in the last seven years what has the CFIA done to answer this question? Next to nothing.
The CFIA recently published a compendium of research they have conducted on the BSLB (http://www.atl.cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/index-e/what-e/science-e/entomology-e/bslb-e/summary-e.html). There are 13 different studies listed. They relate to detection of the BSLB, its fungal associates, potential control mechanisms (Q. Will wood-chippers kill BSLB's? A. Yes.), wasps that parasitize the BSLB, and its host preferences. One preliminary study (conducted in 2000) found that red spruce with reduced growth rates and low vigour (i.e. "unhealthy" trees) were more susceptible to infestation than faster growing, more vigorous trees (i.e. "healthy" trees) but this research has not been continued.
What does this all mean?
There is still no real evidence that shows that the brown spruce longhorn beetle attacks or is a threat to healthy trees. The same claims made in 2000, that the BSLB is an invasive insect that attacks healthy trees and is a threat to North American forests, have simply been recycled again and again without supporting evidence.
One could reasonably ask (after seven years of beetle battles in Nova Scotia) why has such research not been done? If the BSLB is not a problem to healthy trees, why is the CFIA spending taxpayer's dollars battling it? If there is no evidence that the BSLB is a threat, why are expansions to the quarantine zone being proposed? Such measures would have a significant impact on many woodlot owners in the province. What is the reason for contemplating them at all?
Nova Scotia has been in the grip of an eradication juggernaut for the past seven years. The science to support the need for this campaign is almost entirely lacking. If the BSLB is a problem, let's find out. If it's not a problem, let's stop worrying about it - there are lots of other pressing environmental problems that require our attention. It is time to ask if the emperor has any clothes - and demand some answers.
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