Spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana
Clem.; SBW) outbreaks are one of the dominant natural disturbances in North America, having killed balsam fir (Abies balsamea
(L.) Mill.) and spruce (Picea
sp.) trees over tens of millions of hectares. Responses to past SBW outbreaks have included the aerial application of insecticides to limit defoliation and keep trees alive, salvage harvesting of dead and dying trees, or doing nothing and accepting the resulting timber losses. We tested a new ‘early intervention strategy’ (EIS) focused on suppressing rising SBW populations before major defoliation occurs, from 2014 to 2018 in New Brunswick, Canada. The EIS approach included: (1) intensive monitoring of overwintering SBW to detect ‘hot spots’ of low but rising populations; (2) targeted insecticide treatment to prevent spread; and (3) proactive public communications and engagement on project activities and results. This is the first attempt of area-wide (all areas within the jurisdiction of the province of New Brunswick) management of a native forest insect population. The project was conducted by a consortium of government, forest industry, researchers, and other partners. We developed a treatment priority and blocking model to optimize planning and efficacy of EIS SBW insecticide treatment programs. Following 5 years of over 420,000 ha of EIS treatments of low but increasing SBW populations, second instar larvae (L2) SBW levels across northern New Brunswick were found to be considerably lower than populations in adjacent Québec. Treatments increased from 4500 ha in 2014, to 56,600 ha in 2016, and to 199,000 ha in 2018. SBW populations in blocks treated with Bacillus thuringiensis
or tebufenozide insecticide were consistently reduced, and generally did not require treatment in the subsequent year. Areas requiring treatment increased up to 2018, but SBW L2 populations showed over 90% reductions in that year. Although this may be a temporary annual decline in SBW population increases, it is counter to continued increases in Québec. Following 5 years of tests, the EIS appears to be effective in reducing the SBW outbreak.
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