Beech Bark Disease at Killbear Provincial Park

Camping at Killbear: Witnessing the Ugly Results of an Invasive Species in Action

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Beech Bark Disease at Killbear Provincial Park
Photo of Harold Point campground at Killbear Provincial Park showing the results of diseased Beech tree removal. Image copyright Ontario Parks

I’m in the midst of my family’s annual summer camping trips. We’re currently in Arrowhead Provincial Park near Huntsville, Ontario (Canada) at the moment, having spent our first week with friends and their families in Killbear Provincial Park (near Parry Sound Ontario). We’ve been meeting together en masse in Killbear for years, always staying in the same group of sites. But this time something was very different. As we pulled into the park, we began to notice campsites that had been thinned out. As we approached our usual areas, the thinning had progressed to near clear cutting on some sites. What used to be a healthy canopy of mature trees, was reduced in some spots to dozens of stumps, rotting logs, sand and undergrowth beneath blazing sun. What had happened? Beech Bark Disease had taken hold resulting in the loss of thousands of Beech trees.

What’s happened at Killbear is yet another example of invasive species decimating a habitat where they’ve been introduced (usually inadvertently). In this case, it’s a one-two punch of the Beech Scale insect (originally from Europe) and a fungus, also suspected to be European in origin, which work in concert to cause Beech Bark Disease. I’ve seen a similar scenario play out at home in London (Canada), where we received a rather frightening government letter a few years ago informing us that our home was under quarantine. It wasn’t zombies or anything that exciting, but the Emerald Ash Borer. All wood and trees on our property were effectively stuck there as a result. Soon after, Ash trees throughout our neighborhood and the city began coming down as the insects attacked and authorities struggled to contain the outbreak. In western Canada and parts of the U.S., Gypsy Moths have been wreaking havoc on forests. The Asian Long-horned Beetle is also causing problems. I don’t even want to think about giant snails and pythons in Florida.

In Ontario and some States, a tiny Asian wasp that lays eggs in Emerald Ash Borer larvae is being introduced as potential biological control —better than chemical treatments (that are both expensive and potentially toxic), but I’m never sure about throwing yet another non-native species into the mix…

Besides being a relaxing vacation, this trip has been a stark, first-hand reminder about just how damaging the combination of invasive species and ongoing weather stress (warmer winters, hot summers and periods of drought) from climate change can damage an ecosystem. The visual impact provided plenty of opportunity to dive into the topic with our kids, and I can only hope that their generation recognizes the damage being done, learns not to take the environment for granted and is spurred into more aggressive action to protect what we have. Hopefully, by the time they are taking their own kids camping, the forests will be on the road to recovery and not under further attack.

In the meantime, every time we plant a tree on our property, we choose a different species. We’re hoping that with this diversity, the next time some unexpected pest arrives we won’t lose all our shade in one shot.

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