Northwestern Ontario residents may see an increase in the pine beetle (white-spotted sawyer) population this summer.
"It really depends where you are. This insect has a two year life-cycle, which means eggs are laid and then two years later, the adult beetles come out of the logs or dying trees. Their population depends a lot on the material that is available for them to lay their eggs in. So if you've had fires in the area, or some forest harvesting then you get large numbers of beetles two years later in your area," says Taylor Scarr, Director of Integrated Pest Management at the Canadian Forest Service in Sault Ste. Marie.
In 2019 thousands of residents in the Pikangikum First Nation area were evacuated from their homes as RL39 grew to over 50 thousand hectares. One year later in 2020 RL49 saw the entire community of Red Lake evacuate their homes due to a significantly smaller fire, but due to its proximity to the town, residents had to leave.
"The pine beetle population could increase because of those fires along with some around the Kenora area in the past couple of years. The beetles will come out and look for a place to feed on the live twigs of trees. They have to do that before they can mature their eggs. They can fly several kilometres to find a new area and look for dead or dying trees in which the lay their eggs," he says.
Because of their two-year life cycle, the region can also see a fluctuation in the pine beetle population.
In the summer of 2020, Northwestern Ontarians were relieved to see a small amount of the insect, mainly because of the fear of its strong bite. But Scarr want to ease the minds of the public.
"They certainly do bite. But it's more of a protection than an aggressive action. They're not biting to attack you. Their main predators are things like birds, so if they feel threatened then they will use their mandibles to grab on. Those jaws are made for chewing wood so they're quite strong," he explains.
Residents will be happy to know that the pine beetle season does not last the entire summer, as it tapers off near the beginning of August.