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Mo beetles mo problems: MP for Jasper raises MPB in House

by Craig Gilbert | publisher@fitzhugh.ca

Yellowhead MP Jim Eglinski has convinced the Conservative caucus to make the mountain pine beetle an issue important enough to spend party time on during Question Period.

He stood in the House on Oct. 26 and said he’s been trying to meet with government side ministers about the MPB for years: that a meeting promised by a parliamentary secretary in May 2016 hasn’t happened, likewise for the environment minister saying she looked forward to talking about beetles more in June of this year.

He asked it during what’s called adjournment proceedings, a short half-hour period at the end of a sitting day that was originally intended for MPs to get a second crack at an unsatisfactory answer from a member of the governing party. He had asked about the beetle on the Friday previous.

He said despite been assuaged to the contrary, he had visited the park in recent weeks and seen that “nothing” had been done to address the beetle outbreak, now spreading exponentially east of the park, or the deadfall surrounding forest towns such as Jasper.

“There are roads that are maybe 25 feet wide with high and dead pine trees near some of the lodges,” Eglinski said on Oct. 26. “If a fire started, people would not be able to get out of there. (Lumber) companies like Weyerhaeuser, Millar Western, and West Fraser … spent millions of dollars trying to combat the pine beetle as it slowly crept in from the park. I was just there a few weeks ago and nothing had been done yet.”

A Parks official told the Fitzhugh last week that prescribed burns are planned for six areas west of the town site in the coming fall or spring.

“I’ve never really backed off it since I got elected, when I was on the government side I tried to push government at that time to deal with it, when it was just in its infancy coming into the Mount Robson area,” he said via phone from the airport in Ottawa. “I tried to encourage Parks to take an active role and deal with it. I was very used to the pine beetle from British Columbia.”

The beetle has affected trees as far east as Chip Lake.

Eglinski said statistics he received from former Hinton mayor Rob Mackin show the number of beetle-killed trees that should be culled provincewide has jumped to more than 500,000 from about 40,000 a year ago.

“I brought it up with the Alberta caucus and we brought it up with the national caucus and we’ve decided we’re going to push faster and harder on this because it’s going to have a devastating impact, not only in the Hinton area, but across to Whitecourt. We all cross paths with our chip trucks, and it will impact everybody.”

He said the Tories had given the province $8 or $9 million years ago to combat the beetle in the Peace River region, and “that’s what I was basically asking yesterday of the minister. I think the province needs help, and it’s not in the way of scientific help. We know where the beetles are, we know how to combat them, we just need help to do it.”

In the House, Kim Rudd, the parliamentary secretary for the Environment and Climate Change ministry said the Canadian Forest Service has the “largest team of scientists to counter this menace” in the country, and they have people in the Yellowhead working on it.

“The CFS is a recognized centre of excellence on pests and invests $20 million annually to develop scientific solutions that help forest managers and communities respond to damaging pests by slowing their spread, mitigating their impact, and reducing the risk of infestation in areas not yet affected,” Rudd said. “For the mountain pine beetle specifically, this science has helped assess the economic and environmental risks, particularly under a changing climate, and developed adaptive options for affected communities and industries. Its work has also assisted in maximizing value from beetle-killed timber, as well as developing new technologies and products.”

She said the government is acutely aware that the pine beetle poses a serious threat to the Boreal forest in Alberta and beyond.

“Together, we are doing everything we can to protect the economic value of the provincial forest and achieving the ecological integrity objectives of national and provincial parks, and protected areas.”

Eglinski wasn’t happy with that response, which he described as coy and typical of the Liberals, referring to plans and ecological integrity.

“Well, you know what? There’s the safety of the community, there’s the safety of the people in the Park that are using it. Sometimes you just have to shove aside an ecological theory and do the practical, common-sense, decent thing to make things safe.”

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