Saving B.C.'s pine forests

May 26, 2005, vol. 33, no. 3
By Howard Fluxgold

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Chris Bone hopes that his master of science thesis will make the life cycle of the mountain pine beetle a lot more difficult and help save B.C.'s lodgepole pine forests in the process.

Working in the department of geography's spatial analysis and modelling laboratory, Bone has created a computer model that imitates the attack behaviour of the destructive insect.

“We took remote sensing images (aerial photographs) and brought them into a computer. We then determined the areas of high susceptibility to mountain pine beetle attack,” Bone explains. “The core of the thesis research was taking this information and creating spatial-temporal models - trying to imitate the attack behaviour of mountain pine beetles over the landscape.”

What makes Bone's research unique is that the aerial photographs are so detailed that he can highlight individual trees.

“Most models done with the mountain pine beetle work at more of a landscape scale,” Bone notes. “We have very high resolution data. You can see each individual tree in the images which allows us to create models at the tree level. Taking this kind of information we can try to predict which trees are going to be attacked in the following years.”

Bone says that older, larger trees are more susceptible to attack, as well as trees that are near those that have already been attacked. His model can predict the course of attacks over a period of three years giving forest managers valuable information on which trees to cut to protect the forest from further infestation.

“The mountain pine beetle is the most destructive insect of pines in western North America,” Bone says. “It needs to kill trees to reproduce, so the more trees it kills, the greater the number of beetles.” That's why it is important to cut down trees that are at risk.

Bone, who will receive his degree at spring convocation, will present his work at conferences and has submitted it to two academic journals for publication.

He plans to study for his doctorate in geography at SFU focusing on the effects of urban development on natural areas. Using the same modelling techniques, he will examine “how the growth of urban areas over time affect different forested and other natural areas.”

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