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The Pine Beetle Crisis and Changing Fire Management Strategies in BC History

Terry Glavin’s piece in yesterday’s Globe And Mail describes the impact of the pine beetle infestation and its dramatic effects on native cultures in British Columbia. This is an under-reported aspect of the pine beetle story … it is a natural disaster story where the pine beetle’s effect on the provincial economy usually makes the headlines. Glavin’s article acknowledges climate change and how warmer temperatures help the pine beetle survive. But more interestingly, he points to changing patterns in aboriginal use of fire and the arrival of smallpox — historical trends — as a contributing further to the spread of the pine beetle today. Glavin writes:

Although the beetle outbreak began only in the 1990s, the story really began about 140 years ago, with an event that gave B.C.’s pine forests their dominant, bug-vulnerable characteristics. That event involved another plague, smallpox, which decimated B.C.’s aboriginal communities, and ended an ancient regime of prescribed-burn landscape management.

The practice of controlled burning of the forest to enhance food-plant production and maintain optimum habitat conditions for mule deer, elk and other game animals has been meticulously documented by University of Victoria ethnobotanist Nancy J. Turner.

She says a “very plausible and likely explanation” for the pine-beetle catastrophe is that the aboriginal regime ended, and was replaced by a rigid orthodoxy of fire suppression — a central feature of 20th-century industrial forest management — and now global warming is upon us.

The article continues with connections between ecological, linguistic, and cultural loss. And, Glavin notes some of the traditional knowledge aboriginal people hold about the pine beetle.

Glavin sets up his Globe and Mail article on his blog.

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One Comment

  1. Sharon Johnson wrote:

    With regard to your article on the Mountain Pine beetle and the B.C. aboriginal communities method of controlling this beetle. It is written in Susan Allison’s – memoirs – book “A Pioneer Gentlewoman in British Columbia. Her Native Indian friend “Ashnola John” asked her to notify the Government to let them know that the Pine Beetle was infesting timber and needed to be destroyed. The other thing that should be noted is that companies and foresty representatives have wanted to log Manning Park for a very long time (many years) to get rid of the beetle kill. Unfortunately certain environmental extremist types kicked up a fuss wanting the park left natural and beautiful. Sure is a beautiful dead and dying forest now – isn’t it. Now look where we are. Even the First Nations peoples understood the need to look after the land, wildlife and timber. Much could be learned from the elders if we were sensible enough to listen.

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006 at 11:42 am | Permalink