Bark Beetles & New Terrain: How Sun Peaks Rose to the Challenge

BC forest damaged by the mountain pine beetle. Photo by: Dezene Huber, University of Northern British Columbia. Courtesy http://news.ubc.ca
Interior BC forest damaged by the mountain pine beetle. Photo by Dezene Huber, University of Northern British Columbia. Courtesy news.ubc.ca

The mountain pine beetle infestation has been a concern in the BC interior since the mid-1990s. The B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations estimates the beetles have killed a total of 723 million cubic metres of timber. And aside from the logging industry, the beetles threaten another sector reliant on trees: BC’s interior resorts.

At Sun Peaks Resort, the unwelcome and voracious insect appeared in lodgepole pines around 1997 on the western slopes of Tod Mountain and it seemed obvious that the infestation would travel to the east on the prevailing winds. The resort realized that action had to be taken to avoid unmanageable stands of dead trees subject to blowdown and uncontrolled fire. The resort began selective dead tree removal in 1998. But between 2008 (when a comprehensive management plan was put forward) and 2012 the efforts had to be scaled back due to the economic downturn.

Unflattering headshot of the culprit: Mountain Pine Beetle. Photo by: Ward Strong, B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations.
“You talkin’ to me?” Unflattering headshot of the insatiable culprit. Courtesy news.ubc.ca

We caught up with Jamie Tattersfield, the Sun Peaks Mountain Operations Manager, to see what’s been happening over the last few years and how the beetles impacted Sun Peaks’ new terrain.

Mountain Life: How do you deal with beetle infestations?

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Jamie Tattersfield: Unfortunately when it comes to bark beetles [of which the mountain pine beetle is a species] the way they burrow into the bark and fabric of the trees means that sprays or other applications are not effective. The main way of dealing with these kind of infestations is to remove the infected trees and in so doing try to reduce the beetle populations.  

The beetle impact is clear in this photo of Gil's from a heli recon. Photo courtesy Sun Peaks Resort.
The beetle impact is clear in this photo of Gil’s from a heli recon. Photo courtesy Sun Peaks Resort.

ML: Obviously the big news this year is the new terrain at Sun Peaks. Is much of this terrain the site of beetle kill? And how has the beetle problem affected your glade terrain in general?

JT: All of the terrain we are developing has been affected by beetles and up to 50% of the standing timber is dead.  In the case of Gil’s the main issue is western balsam bark beetle because the predominant species in that areas is balsam (subalpine fir). Over on West Mo the issue was spruce bark beetle so we are in process of removing all of the large dead and dying spruce. All the run development we have done since 2003 has been to reduce beetle populations and remove dead and dying stems for safety and wildfire prevention reasons. The challenge is to do this while preserving the aesthetics of our resort – we don’t want to make the place look like a logging show.

New terrain. Photo by Adam Stein/courtesy Sun Peaks Resort.
“The happy result is the terrain available for skiing is leading lift capacity by quite a bit – this equals an unparalleled feeling of space and solitude if you want it.” Photo by Adam Stein/courtesy Sun Peaks Resort.

ML: how many of the dead standing trees can you leave as features in the glades? Or are the dead standing trees too likely to present a hazard to skiers/boarders?

JT: For safety reasons we would only leave dead stems if they are more than one or one-and-a-half tree lengths away from any opening or trail. We use the master planned runs as access to the affected timber and our forestry operations are always aimed at preserving the aesthetics of the resort. The happy result is the terrain available for skiing is leading lift capacity by quite a bit and will continue to do so for some time in the future – this equals an unparalleled  feeling of space and solitude if you want it. Our installed lift capacity (SCC) at present is over 7000 skiers at one time, while our terrain capacity is well over 14,000.

More about winter at Sun Peaks here.

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