We have a saying that it’s not a REAL K-Country forest unless it’s full of deadfall. No matter where you go in a K-Country forest, no matter how dense the brush, no matter how far you are from a trail, no matter how much deadfall there is, you will find tape in the trees.
Tape of many styles
Welcome to evidence of Alberta Ministry of Forestry, Parks and Tourism’s ongoing pest management work. Observant folks will notice tape in the wilderness of all different colours and styles. There is striped tape and solid tape; orange tape, blue tape, yellow tape and red tape. There is tape with numbers written on it, tape with pictures of bugs on it. There is tape marked “Pest Management” and other tape that’s not marked.
Sometimes you will even see trees where bark has been removed to look for bugs. When just scraping the bark off is not enough, you will find circles cut out of the trees, pictured below.
Each tape you see is unique to the year it was used. Each year, the tape was used for different things. Some years, it marks trees identified as sick. It’s trees tested and shown not to be sick in other years. Some years, the tape marks the edges of plots being monitored. Some years, it shows where trees were removed that were sick.
So why is a particular bit of tape there? There’s never a clear answer without the index of what tape colour it is, tying to what year it was put up, which ties to why it was put up. Every taped tree is in a GPS tagged database somewhere, too. This link can help you understand how the tape (pink and red, in that case) was used in one particular year (2010).
Tree health surveys were done long before the Mountain Pine Beetle (“MPB”) became a problem in Alberta’s forests. However, they have become VERY noticeable since.
The MPB, or Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins, is a small bark beetle about 4.0 to 7.5 mm in length – about the size of a grain of rice. The MPB is the most destructive pest of mature pine forests in North America. K-Country – or more precisely, a swath of K-Country forest from Highwood Pass to Lake Minnewanka, between Hwy 40 and the Banff Park boundary – has a bunch of it, as you can see in the large-scale provincial map.
Heli-surveys done from 2016-2019 showed the Bow Valley to be particularly problematic, hence the pine beetle management controlled burns that have been underway. Some 6,000 trees were burned in the winter of 2019-20 just within 3 km of the Banff Park Boundary. Large burns were underway in the Bow Valley in the winter of 2021 when we prepared this page. The map to the lower right is an excerpt of the 2019 survey results showing the issues in the Bow Valley corridor extending into Sibbald.
Work in the Bow Valley area in the 2020 window was been marked using red tape (an appropriate colour for government work). Near as we can tell, the tape used in 2020 marks plot boundaries where control work has been done.
Pine beetle management work
Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) started monitoring the MPB population annually in the southern Rockies in 1977. Since the last major outbreak in the 1980s, the MPB remained endemic in the Crowsnest Pass to the United States border area of Alberta. However, the presence of MPB was confirmed for the first time on baited trees in west-central Alberta in 1992. Monitoring since then has indicated a steady increase and spread in south-western, west-central and north-western parts of the province, coincident with MPB expansion in British Columbia. This prompted SRD to undertake annual detection and monitoring surveys, develop management guidelines and implement control strategies. In 2006, the number of new infestations rose sharply in Alberta. This was as a result of a long-distance dispersal of beetles from outbreak areas in British Columbia.
The heli surveys search for pine trees turning red. These are trees that beetles have already affected. This is followed up with searches for trees with pitch tubes. When the pine beetle bores out from under the bark, to leave the tree, the holes it leaves behind ooze pitch. This leaves a distinct pattern, pictured at right.
How old is that tape?
The oldest tape you most commonly see was put up in the late 2000’s coincident with the infestation increase. Virtually every pine tree in K-Country was checked over the space of 2 years, in 2007 & 2008. That’s when most tape started going up. An army of students was hired to “go bush-bashing” and check everything. When we say “every pine tree was checked”, we never cease to be amazed about how we can find tape in the most remote and unpleasant locations.
Some tape, like the one pictured at right, is associated with bait stations (almost all bait stations are on Spruce trees, by the way). The bait stations — those cardboard squares nailed to the tree — had pheromones that attracted the MBP adults. They’re also sticky, enabling capture of them. We know of dozens of baited trees in the Bow Valley area, but none of them are maintained any more. They have done their job and now are just dead squares nailed to trees.
While there’s nothing on the use of tape in trees, you can read all about the MPB in Alberta here. Just know that the tape you’re seeing is an indication that the government is actively trying to ensure the health of the forests we all know and love to wander in.
Find out about other unique aspects of K-Country here!