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Detection of low level infestation in forest stands is of principle importance to determine effective control strategies before the attack spread to large areas. Of particular concern is the ongoing mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae (Hopkins) epidemic, which has caused approximately 14 million hectares of damage to lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Dougl. ex. Loud var. latifolia Engl.) forests in western Canada. At the stand level attacked trees are often difficult to locate and can remain undetected until the infestation has become established beyond a small number of trees. As such, methods are required to detect and characterise low levels of attack prior to infestation expansion, to inform management, and to aid mitigation activities. In this paper, an adaptive cluster sampling approach was applied to very fine-scale (20 cm) digital aerial imagery to locate mountain pine beetle damaged trees at the leading edge of the current infestation. Results indicated a mean number of 7.36 infested trees per hectare with a variance of 18.34. In contrast a non-adaptive approach estimated the mean number of infested trees in the same area to be 61.56 infested trees per hectare with a variance of 41.43. Using a relative efficiency estimator the adaptive cluster sampling approach was found to be over two times more efficient when compared to the non-adaptive approach.