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Opinion: Global warming takes toll on Colorado forests

Climate change outpacing most predictions

Dead lodgepole pine forests dominate many Summit County vistas. Bob Berwyn photo.

by Howard Hallman and Brad Piehl

It doesn’t take a scientist to understand the connection between climate change and forest fires. Last spring was hot and dry, which resulted in a dry forest that easily burns. This should not surprise us. What is surprising is the pace of climate change and the damage it has already caused to our forests and communities.

A vast majority of American scientists now recognize climate change as a threat to our nation’s well-being. Their findings are supported by decades of top-notch research. The climate is changing at the pace of many of the worst-case predictions from five to 10 years ago. Last year there were thousands of new record high temperatures across America. Severe drought conditions devastated millions of acres of crop and grazing land. Acres burned by catastrophic wildfire have increased significantly over the last several decades.

Catastrophic wildfires are not the only threat. Water-starved trees are more sensitive to natural infestations such as the mountain pine beetle. With warmer winter temperatures and longer summers, the pine beetle population exploded. What historically has been a good thing — the natural kill off of older trees in limited locations — has turned into a continent-wide disaster, with tens of millions of acres impacted. Locally we can see the impact of climate change on the health of our forests, our water supply, and our recreation economy.

In Colorado, our lives, homes, water supply and economy are all stake. Not only do our forest lands provide beauty, they are, in fact, our most critical economic resource. Colorado is defined by its mountains and forests. Not only do people come here to ski, they move their businesses and families here because of scenic beauty and outdoor lifestyle. They stay, eat, and buy lift tickets and houses.

Colorado is a dry place. We cannot survive without fresh, clean water from our forests. Large wildfires and forest health declines now threaten our reservoirs, streams and watersheds. Faced with a changing climate, the job of managing our forest lands is made much more difficult. Money to fund forest monitoring, management, and reforestation is increasingly spent fighting wildfires — protecting homes and property. Resources that should go to recreation and ecological enhancement are now diverted to protect trail users and campers from falling dead trees. With increased development in forest lands the situation only gets worse.

Where will the money come from? The US Forest Service’s share of the federal budget is tiny and decreasing. The US Forest Service has performed its mandate of managing our public lands with remarkable focus and dedication. Absent a strong and adequately funded US Forest Service to properly manage our common public lands there will be no bigger losers than the people of Colorado.

We cannot stop climate change in the short-term. What we can do is provide more resources and greater funding to manage our public forests, and by doing so protect our environment, economy and our homes. In the long-term, we must decrease carbon emissions by means of cleaner energy sources and greater energy conservation. There should be no debate about this. The solution is clear.

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12 Responses

  1. ” … we must decrease carbon emissions by means of cleaner energy sources and greater energy conservation. There should be no debate about this. … ”

    Howard Hallman and Brad Piehl can attempt to ‘wish away’ the existence of a genuine debate about whether human activity prompts global warming all they want to. There is still an unsettled debate over this.

    Hallman and Piehl claim ” … findings are supported by decades of top-notch research … “, but what they fail to tell you is that such findings are contradicted by lengthy reports that also question the methodology of the Intergovernmental Panel on climate Change, using highly detailed peer-reviewed science journal-published papers to support those skeptic assessments – see: http://www.nipccreport.org/reports/2011/2011report.html

    But what happens when anyone mentions skeptic science reports? Promoters of the idea of man-caused global warming do not offer any clear rebuttal to these reports, they instead shout as loudly as they can for you to IGNORE them, that the skeptic climate scientists are paid to say what they say by ‘big coal & oil’….. without offering a shred of proof of any actual event where money was exchanged for false, fabricated science papers or other such material.

    The question the public needs to ask itself: why do people tell us the debate is settled and that skeptics ‘manufacture doubt’ about the issue when hard scrutiny of these claims ends up revealing a situation where apparently doubt is manufactured about the credibility of the skeptics because the basic idea of man-caused global warming has every appearance of not being able to stand on its own merits?

    • You’re just plain wrong. There is no legitimate debate, only skewed facts, cherry-picked data and misleading statements by those unwilling to take responsibility for our impacts on the planet.

      • ” … skewed facts, cherry-picked data and misleading statements …. ”

        And you are able to back up those assertions….. how? For the benefit of your own credibility, and to provide your readers with the ammunition to deflate arguments like mine, wouldn’t it be in your best interest to provide the information you rely on to make these assertions, considering the unlimited space you have here?

        I make no such assertions about the science or who says what, all I do is point to two things: highly detailed science assessments / analysis which contradicts the IPCC side, and what looks like a 20-year effort to bury the existence of skeptic scientists. It is that 2nd bit, mimicked precisely by your own comment above, that undermines the entire issue. How does anyone avoid the appearance of AGW looking like a religious ideology when those supporting it run from debate, label their critics as virtual heretics, and otherwise refuse to participate in the arena of ideas?

        Myself, I do personally take responsibility for minimizing my damaging impact on the planet by driving a little car, setting my A/C level in the 80s, recycling, planting tree saplings, using minimal water, etc. But when I ask questions, I’m branded as an ignorant right-winger, yet those two additional assertions also tumble like dominoes. At what point to AGW’ers run out of accusations to hurl before they are forced to consider that what I ask about is legitimate?

        Once again, where is the actual physical evidence that skeptic climate scientists were paid to create false, fabricated science papers or to spew out ‘skewed facts, cherry-picked data and misleading statements’? It’s one heckuva simple question.

        If you don’t have the answer, than that’s fine, but then you will have to deal with the manner in which that implodes pretty much every excuse the public is supposed to rely on as an excuse to ignore skeptic scientists.

        • Feeling a little defensive, eh? I don’t blame you :)

          • Now, you’ve lost me. Defensive about….. what? My ‘damaging impact’? I’ve been practicing that all the way back to when global cooling was supposedly destroying the planet. People would label me a tree-hugger if they never read anything about my AGW issue questions.

            Meanwhile, if you can’t or won’t attempt to support the idea that skeptics are corrupt, than that’s fine, but if some undecided readers here have any kind of skeptic lean to them, your failure to strengthen the corruption accusation will cause them to wonder why you and other more prominent media people can’t or won’t.

        • “At what point to AGW’ers run out of accusations to hurl before they are forced to consider that what I ask about is legitimate?”

          The answer is Never. AGW or climate alarmism is a quasi-religion, a faith. No matter how you question it, no matter what evidence you present, they ignore it and carry on. Their behavior defines the term faith. When you view climate alarmism as a faith or quasi-religion, their behavior suddenly makes perfect sense.

          This is a faith which possesses a god (Gaia earth), a good book (AR4 report), an organization (IPCC), a devil (CO2), priests (climate scientists), apostles (A Gore), sinners (humanity), sinful behavior (carbon emissions), and an apocalypse (climate disaster). The only things missing I think are churches and a martyr. Someday they will have these as well.

          In a few centuries their church ceilings might have frescoes of early disciples like Gore and Pachaurie. Frightening thought really.

  2. Thanks for making Russel’s point!

    • Questioning the cause of global warming with a comment on a website doesn’t create a legitimate debate, no matter how hard and how often you try. It seems that, the more solid the science becomes, the more intense the effort to cast doubt on that science.

  3. @Russell – I don’t think this article made any mention of skeptics being corrupt. It merely talks about possible links between climate and forest health, links that, at this point, seem pretty indisputable, according to most forest scientists.

  4. “Last spring was hot and dry, which resulted in a dry forest that easily burns. This should not surprise us. What is surprising is the pace of climate change and the damage it has already caused to our forests and communities.”

    Exactly right. Last spring was hot and dry, that’s bad. Next spring will be cool and wet, that’s bad. The pace of climate change is surprising, that’s bad.

    When will the world realize that climate change is bad?

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