Currently, over 1 000 000 ha have been moderately or severely attacked by mountain pine beetles (Dendroctonus ponderosae) in west-central BC, including a large portion of the Itcha-Ilgachuz caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) winter range in the very dry, very cold subzone of the Montane Spruce (MSxv) biogeoclimatic zone. Itcha-Ilgachuz caribou winter in low elevation forested habitat east of the Itcha Mountains where they select mature lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) forests and forage primarily by cratering through the snow to obtain terrestrial lichens (Cichowski 1993). This population is one of the populations in the Southern Mountains National Ecological Area (SMNEA) that was recently listed as Threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (Northern Caribou Technical Advisory Committee 2004). It is one of the largest and highest density caribou populations in the province and, therefore, conservation of this population will be vital to the overall recovery of caribou in the SMNEA. Although a number of studies are currently examining regeneration and advanced regeneration in a post-mountain pine beetle landscape (studies in progress by Dr. Dave Coates - FSP Y061148 and Dr. Phil Burton - FSP Y061184, Coates et al. 2006, Williston and Cichowski 2006), few studies have focused on forest floor vegetation dynamics. Results from the East Ootsa and Entiako areas to the north suggest that kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) has increased in response to the mountain pine beetle epidemic (Williston and Cichowski 2004, 2006). This increase has affected terrestrial lichen abundance and could potentially also impact regeneration. Other studies have demonstrated an increase in understorey vegetation as a result of mountain beetle disturbance in Utah (Stone and Wolfe 1996), and spruce beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis) disturbance in Alaska (Matsuoka et al. 2001). Further information is needed to understand the effects of the mountain pine beetle epidemic on understorey dynamics and regeneration in central British Columbia. Coates et al. (2006) showed that there is a range in the amount of advanced regeneration in mountain pine beetle-killed stands in the Sub-Boreal Spruce biogeoclimatic zone with 40% of stands containing a significant amount of advanced regeneration. At the other end of the scale, some stands contain little advanced regeneration; these stands will rely on new regeneration following mountain pine beetle attack. Understorey vegetation dynamics will play a key role in regeneration of these stands. Because caribou select primarily low productivity stands during winter, advanced regeneration on these sites is generally lower than on more productive sites and are good candidates to examine understorey vegetation dynamics and regeneration in response to the mountain pine beetle epidemic. This study was initiated in 2005 in the Quesnel TSA to examine the effects of the mountain pine beetle epidemic on understorey vegetation dynamics, terrestrial lichens and regeneration. In 2005, 7 permanent sample sites were established and the project was set up as an official Ministry of Forests and Range Experimental Project (EP# 1208.01) For this project, we propose to establish 3 additional permanent sample sites in the Quesnel TSA in 2006 and upgrade canopy cover information for the other 7 sample sites.
Cichowski, Deborah B., Bulkley Valley Centre. 2007. Mountain pine beetle / lichen project, Quesnel TSA: Year 2, 2006/07. Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program. Forest Investment Account Report. FIA2007MR332