More than 10 years of hard work and over $5 million dollars in investment have resulted in a significant scientific accomplishment and market ready natural control product to combat the balsam fir sawfly (BFS). This natural pesticide, now registered for use by Health Canada under the trade name Abietiv™, takes aim at the BFS population. Abietiv™ is a true Atlantic Canadian success story where innovation by Canadian Forest Service researchers at the Atlantic Forestry Centre spurred the development of a solution to help ensure the future health of our forests and forest sector.

The balsam fir sawfly has been severely threatening Newfoundland and Labrador’s forests and forestry industry since the early 1990s. It is responsible for the moderate to severe defoliation of 45,000 hectares of prime balsam fir forest. The estimated price tag on the timber at risk exceeds $750 million dollars plus the associated social and economic costs to the communities that surround the affected areas.

With no viable control options, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the Canadian Forest Service (CFS), the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Natural Resources (NLDNR), Forest Protection Limited (FPL), Corner Brook Pulp and Paper, and Abitibi Consolidated Inc. partnered to find a solution. Taking the lead on this project, the Integrated Pest Management Team, headed by Mr. Edward Kettela at the CFS-Atlantic Forestry Centre, believed that the BFS was the ideal candidate for a species-specific “baculovirus” virus (NPV) that naturally occurs in its population.

“Developing this NPV has been one of my main projects since 1997,” explains Dr. Christopher Lucarotti, the insect pathologist who was the first to isolate this virus. “NPV’s are DNA viruses that are highly host specific. They have no detrimental impacts on the environment and non-target pests. These types of biocontrol agents are really the future in pest control.”

Normally, populations of balsam fir sawflies are regulated by natural pathogens, parasites, and predators. Outbreaks are generally short in duration. The infestation in Newfoundland is unprecedented in its seriousness and geographic scope. As certain insect populations reach peak numbers, an NPV can cause a collapse of the pest populations. However, in the case of the balsam fir sawfly, a natural collapse of the infestation would only occur after causing serious damage to forests. Knowing this, the CFS team set out to enhance this natural biological control process and in 1997, Dr. Lucarotti was able to isolate a naturally occurring NPV from balsam fir sawfly populations in Newfoundland.

From 1997 through to 2004, the CFS team developed and tested the balsam fir sawfly NPV collected from Newfoundland. Each year, permits were obtained and studies were conducted. The NPV was found to accelerate the natural collapse of the insect, thereby creating a successful bio-control for balsam fir sawfly. In June 2004, a registration package was submitted under the trade name of Abietiv™ to Canada’s registration agency, Health Canada ’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). On May 25, 2005, FPL licensed the NPV technology from NRCan-CFS, making this natural control product commercially available. In June of 2006, PMRA confirmed that Abietiv™ was registered for use in Canada.

Through partnership, hard work, and science, researchers were able to conceptualize a solution to a significant problem and turn it into a reality in forest protection. Thanks to the efforts of Natural Resources Canada, CFS scientists and researchers, and the many partners, Newfoundland and Labrador can breathe easy knowing that CFS is working to keep a healthy forest and strong forest sector.

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