A dying pine tree infested by mountain pine beetles is pictured in the wilderness near Whitecourt, Alta., on June 4, 2015. Since 1999, mountain pine beetles have killed 18 million hectares (69,000 square miles) of British Columbia’s mature lodgepole pines, and they threaten Alberta’s timber industry, which is worth $4 billion annually.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

A dying pine tree infested by mountain pine beetles is pictured in the wilderness near Whitecourt, Alta., on June 4, 2015. Since 1999, mountain pine beetles have killed 18 million hectares (69,000 square miles) of British Columbia’s mature lodgepole pines, and they threaten Alberta’s timber industry, which is worth $4 billion annually.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

What’s Killing Canada’s Pine Trees?

Deep in the woodlands of Western Canada, a war is being waged against an insect the size of a grain of rice that threatens to spread to pine forests stretching eastward to the Atlantic Ocean. Since the late 1990s the mountain pine beetle, or Dendroctonus ponderosae, has attacked and killed hundreds of millions of commercially valuable pine trees in British Columbia, Alberta, and parts of the western U.S. The insects attack the trees by boring beneath the bark, where they feed and spread a blue-stain fungus, which becomes a food source for their larvae and inhibits the trees from increasing resin output to fend off the beetles. While warmer winters, a result of climate change, have allowed beetle populations to explode in some areas, the government of Alberta isn’t giving up the fight to contain the damage. But in British Columbia, where the infestation has dramatically depleted mature timber supplies, large Canadian companies have been looking south of the border and aggressively acquiring U.S. lumber operations to meet demand.

A lone pine tree infested with mountain pine beetles is pictured in the wilderness near Whitecourt, in the Canadian province of Alberta. The beetles burrow inside the bark and prevent the tree’s sap from transporting necessary nutrients up and down the trunk. Within a single year, the pine’s green needles turn orange, then red, before falling off entirely.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

Colton Briggs (right), a Forest Health officer with Alberta’s Environment and Parks agency, scouts for pine trees affected by the mountain pine beetle outbreak while flying with pilot Wilson Southam over remote woodlands near Whitecourt.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

At the edge of a clearing in central Alberta, Briggs examines a 50-foot-high jack pine. The tree is one of a handful previously marked by provincial colleagues as being infested with mountain pine beetles.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

Forest Health officers like Briggs fan out across Alberta in early summer, as part of an annual survey of the mountain pine beetle’s spread. By taking bark samples and extrapolating a total number of beetles and larvae found in individual trees, Alberta authorities can obtain an accurate snapshot of the infestation levels.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

Officer Briggs uses a small circular sawmill and a chisel to extract as many as four disks of bark—each about 4 inches in diameter. He then checks each disk to see whether it contains beetles or beetle larvae, and notes the results for each disk before storing them in paper bags.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

A small disk of pine bark removed during the survey shows the telltale sign of mountain pine beetle infestation, with a shallow groove burrowed out by the insect as it moves up through the tree to find a space to lay its larvae. The bodies of two dead beetles are visible inside the groove.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

The beetle burrows its way inside the bark of certain pine species and, by disrupting the flow of nutrients through the trunk, kills the host tree within a couple of years. Teams of Canadian scientists are still working to fully understand the unprecedented beetle infestation that’s devastated the nation’s vast coniferous forests, but warmer than usual winters brought on by climate change have been a significant factor in the unusually high survival rate among beetle populations.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

Officer Briggs points out where woodpeckers have attempted to reach mountain pine beetles embedded in a pine tree by hammering away at the bark. A small eruption of sap (right), known as a pitch tube, is a protective measure adopted by pine trees and indicates the presence of mountain pine beetles.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

A road snakes through the pine forests of remote central Alberta. Logging crews have constructed hundreds of these routes through woodlands that cover Western Canada so that specially designed equipment can harvest trees with industrial efficiency in even the hardest-to-reach regions.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

A John Deere-manufactured machine known as a feller buncher harvests a mixed stand of coniferous trees northeast of the town of Whitecourt in Canada’s Alberta province. The logging crew felling these trees was contracted by Blue Ridge Lumber, which is owned by British Columbia-based West Fraser.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

The feller buncher can topple a half-dozen 60-foot-high pine trees in a matter of seconds, gathering them in a cluster with its hydraulically powered grappling hands, before severing the trunks from their base with a rapidly spinning circular saw that follows under the grappling arm.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

A large mobile lumber processor operated by a Blue Ridge Lumber logging contractor strips limbs from a recently harvested pine tree. The trunk will be loaded onto a truck and then hauled roughly 20 miles to the nearest sawmill, owned by West Fraser, one of the three giant Canadian timber companies with roots in British Columbia.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

Crows perch on a vast pile of logs that have recently arrived at a pre-processing yard at Canadian timber giant West Fraser’s main sawmill in Quesnel, B.C. Approval by the provincial government to harvest beetle-infested trees early helped expand West Fraser’s mill here into one of the world’s largest almost a decade ago. Now a reduced supply of readily available mature trees is forcing the company to look for new timber sources south of the border in the U.S.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

A machine unloads logs covered in loose dirt that have recently arrived for processing at the West Fraser sawmill in Quesnel, which has the capacity to produce 600 million board feet of lumber a year. Since 1999, a mountain pine beetle infestation has destroyed an estimated 700 million cubic meters (24.7 billion cubic feet) of British Columbia’s mature lodgepole pine timber, forcing companies including West Fraser to upgrade facilities like this one at significant cost.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

A West Fraser employee operates various machines from a control room above a log belt, where logs up to 16 feet in length are fed into the sawmill. From his elevated perch, the operator must monitor more than a half-dozen separate pieces of machinery on video screens.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

An employee of timber giant West Fraser walks among a humming hive of advanced machines designed to transform the round, bark-stripped logs that enter the sawmill into a collection of square-shaped “cants” and long, thin boards. Lasers measure the length, diameter, and shape of each log as it enters, allowing an algorithm to calculate the most efficient way to carve it up.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

Strips of lumber move along a conveyor device en route to further processing at the West Fraser sawmill in Quesnel, B.C. A multimillion-dollar refit at the facility allows the company to utilize every single offcut and ounce of sawdust so that even wood not fit for the lumberyard can be sold for other purposes, including for wood-chip biomass fuel.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

A West Fraser employee monitors lumber as it moves through machines for processing at the sawmill in Quesnel, where the timber company is the largest employer by far. The mayor of Quesnel, Bob Simpson, says residents are concerned about U.S. acquisitions being made by Canadian timber companies like West Fraser, adding that if the company shuttered sawmills like this one, it would “send a shiver through our community.”

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

Processed lumber set for shipping is stacked in the foreground, while plastic-wrapped lumber atop train cars sits in the background. The lumber from West Fraser’s Quesnel sawmill will travel to Chicago, Texas, and as far afield as China for use in construction. The company’s recent acquisitions of U.S. sawmills have been accelerated by the mountain pine beetle infestation, as well as demand in the U.S. housing market.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg