Spruce budworm infestation has some Bragg Creek residents concerned for tree population

An infestation of spruce budworm in Bragg Creek has the Alberta village crawling with caterpillars that can have a devastating impact on forests — and some residents are increasingly worried about local trees.

According to Natural Resources Canada, the spruce budworm “is one of the most damaging native insects affecting spruces and true fir trees” in the country, and an outbreak could last several years and ravage millions of hectares.

Outbreak cycles of spruce budworm occur every 30 to 40 years, and its eggs are laid in the needles of spruce and fir trees. The pervasive insects hatch in winter, and then feed on foliage in spring, which leads to large swathes of defoliation.

In Bragg Creek, located about 45 kilometres west of Calgary, budworms are being found just about everywhere: in yards, in planters and all over trees.

“They tend to rappel down on silk lines … [and] you’ll actually feel it all over your face, because it’s like walking through a spider web,” resident Manfred Allgaier told the Calgary Eyeopener on Friday.

“And then, you’ll see the worms — they may be on your clothing or on your face. Or, hopefully, you’re wearing a hat.”

Budworms and trees

To determine the best approach for managing the infestation, Rocky View County said in May that it would conduct a survey in early June to estimate the spruce budworm population density in and around Bragg Creek.

Its website also says biological or chemical insecticides are usually considered to control large budworm populations, which is the method currently being used aerially in Redwood County.

However, Allgaier said he has heard not everyone is amenable to the same idea in Bragg Creek.

“People are concerned about the use of the gold standard insecticide, called BTK, which has been used in Canada for 30 to 40 years,” Allgaier said.

And Rocky View County also said that while it has inspected the trees in a first step toward addressing the problem, it will be developing a plan with the community in mind — and aerial spraying does not have enough support.

Manfred Allgaier said that he loves the trees in Bragg Creek, and is concerned they will be destroyed if the spruce budworm infestation is not managed. (Submitted by Manfred Allgaier)

“Any decision to conduct wide-scale aerial spraying on county-owned and private land is both costly and complex, as it would require a level of community support and consensus that does not exist today,” the municipality told CBC News in a statement.

But Allgaier feels an ecological cost-benefit analysis should be run, and fears the trees are going to die without intervention.

“A lot of these trees in Bragg, they’re over 100 years old,” he said. “They’re already vulnerable.”

The contraption

For now, the county is encouraging concerned citizens to manage the budworm population on their own property, with its staff available to advise on treatment options and answer questions.

“We know that the many trees in and around Bragg Creek contribute to the community’s charm and appeal, and that it is difficult to see this infestation spread,” the statement said.

“The county will continue to work with residents to manage the spruce budworm population in a way that balances the desire to address the problem with the respect of individual property rights.”

With the help of the hydraulics desk at Princess Auto, Bragg Creek resident Manfred Allgaier rigged up a telescoping pressure washer wand to spray spruce trees. (Submitted by Manfred Allgaier)

Allgaier said a community meeting has been planned to address the problem in early July and, in the meantime, he has taken the matter into his own hands: he did some research on how best to spray 90-foot spruce trees, like the ones in his yard, from the ground.

“Because I don’t have an airplane or a helicopter, obviously,” Allgaier said.

And with the help of the hydraulics desk at Princess Auto, he rigged up a telescoping pressure-washer wand.

“I sprayed effectively to 40 feet,” he said. “And so I’m happy with that.”

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