Beware the spruce budworm

Published on March 26, 2014
The spruce budworm is under close observation by DNR who are predicting a possible infestation of the creatures. NATURAL RESOURCES CANADA

PICTOU COUNTY – Softwood sawmills and pulp mills, be wary.
The Department of Natural Resources has observed an increase in population for the spruce budworm, a pest that has been responsible for a lot of tree morality in the past, but it’s not time to panic yet.


“We’ve actually upped our sampling intensity so we can get a better handle on what the population is doing. We figure we’re two to five years away from seeing any real damage happen in this province. It’s very early. What that does is it allows us some time to prepare, to be proactive in terms of how we’re going to manage or deal with the budworm,” John Ross, manager of risk services with forest protection at DNR, says.

The last outbreak was in the mid-1970’s, when the budworm was responsible for severe defoliation in 1.2 million hectares of land throughout Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

“What the budworm does is it actually feeds on the needles of the trees. If the trees are eaten quite severely, without the needles, the trees can’t survive.”

Although they’re always in Nova Scotia forests, DNR has noticed the population increasing due to favorable conditions, which tends to happen every 30 to 40 years.

Their preferred food sources, balsam fir, white, red and black spruce trees, are at their peak.

It’s also on the rise in New Brunswick and Quebec, Ross says. Quebec has been battling with the insect for the past seven years.

Due to early detection, they’re hoping to be able to lessen the impact.

Improvements in technology have given them a fighting chance.

They can attempt to predict what the worm will do through modeling techniques.

“There’s computer modeling tools that allow us to predict exactly when the budworm will start feeding. And that’s based on temperature information and population densities and a bunch of different inputs. We’re able to narrow in on that window. If we do some kind of treatment, we have a better idea of where and when to do that.”

To combat the problem, they can adjust harvesting practices for fiber, and use mating disruptors so the worm can’t reproduce.

“A spray program would be one of the tools that could be used as well. Not saying that it will be, but it’s one of the options that are out there.”

Although there are options for DNR, there’s not much individuals can do, other than to “stay tuned.”

“Folks won’t see anything unusual happening right now. We’re detecting it because we’re out looking for it,” Ross says.

Businesses such as Northern Pulp and local sawmills are the ones that should pay attention, but the province’s tree population isn’t in dire straits yet.

On Twitter: @NGNewsAmanda