Normally green British Columbia looking browner because of insects, drought and forest fires.

The four-hour drive from Vancouver to Kelowna takes one through rugged country and mountains, across rivers and over high pastures.

I recently returned after a round trip to the resort area and found the drive to be somewhat disturbing this time. The geography is still wonderful; but compared to a year ago, I was surprised by the number of trees that are dying as a result of mountain pine beetle infestation. The normally green trees appear discoloured at first, turning brown in groups here and there; then they turn into a rust colour before dying altogether. In some valleys, the brown tinge is all-consuming.

In 2008, almost 15 million hectares of forest were affected. This year, the number is undoubtedly higher.

The beetles kill a tree gradually. The danger begins when they lay their eggs under the bark. The larvae then mine the interior of the tree trunk and cut off the supply of water and minerals from the ground. To make matters worse, the beetles carry a fungus that further dehydrates the tree and discolours it.

Mountain pine beetle infestations have been part of the landscape for many decades, but they get worse when drought-like summers and mild winters fail to control their populations. This has been the case in British Columbia in recent years.

The dried timber and warm weather conditions also increase the risk of forest fires, and this year has been another bad one for fires in the province. Kelowna was again threatened when fires broke out near Westbank, on the outskirts of town. My wife and I saw the charred remains of this year's burn on the drive down Highway 97.

The photo above was taken in 2003, when fires threatened the town and burned many homes.

Many are hoping for a very cold, snowy winter this year.

Despite the challenge to the area's ecosystem, Kelowna remains a popular destination for people. Lake Okanagan's breathtaking beauty, summer boating, the local wineries, golf courses and winter sports are just a few of the attractions that will keep the area vibrant for many years to come.

Photo of the August 2003 fire is courtesy of Jeremy Bohn, who made it available on the image sharing site, the stock.xchng.

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