One more time: Beetle-killed forests are NOT more likely to burn, according to new CU-Boulder study

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Beetle-killed lodgepole pines in Colorado. bberwyn photo.

New CU-Boulder study has implications for forest managers and Red Zone communities

Staff Report

*More Summit Voice stories on beetle-kill and forests here.

FRISCO — Communities and resource managers looking to address the threat of wildfires should focus less on tree-killing beetles and more on the underlying forces driving the trend toward larger fires.

Warmer temperatures and increased drought are the key factors, said Colorado-based researchers who took a close look at patterns of beetle-kill and wildfires in recent years.

Their study found that western forests killed by mountain pine beetles are no more at risk to burn than healthy forests. Those findings  fly in the face of both public perception and policy, the scientists acknowledged.

“What we are seeing in this study is that at broad scales, fire does not necessarily follow mountain pine beetles,” said CU-Boulder Research Scientist Tania Schoennagel, of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “It’s well known, however, that fire does follow drought.” Continue reading

Wildfire season starts slow for 2d year in a row

Continued Western drought, warmth set stage for significant wildfires later this summer

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After a dry and warm winter, southern Alaska will have a better than average chance of signficant wildfire activity this spring. Map via NIFC.

By Bob Berwyn

Western wildfires have always been shape-shifting beasts, roaring to life wherever there is hot and dry weather, wind and fuel. But last year’s relatively cool and wet summer brought relief to parts of the region — including Colorado — that had been especially hard the previous few years.

The 2015 wildfire season is starting similarly slow to last year, according to statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center showing that, since January 1, there have been about 6,200 fires that burned across a 100,000 acre footprint, just 30 percent of the average from the past 10 years. Continue reading

Environment: Logging industry fails yet again to strip Pacific Northwest protection for marbled murrelets

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Marbled murrelet in a moss nest. Courtesy USFWS.

Fifth lawsuit rejected by courts

Staff Report

FRISCO — Marbled murrelets along the Pacific Northwest Coast will continue to benefit from the protection of the Endangered Species Act, as a federal appeals court last week rejected yet another logging industry attempt to open more coastal old-growth forest to logging.

The robin-sized birds feed at sea but nest only in old-growth forests along the Pacific Coast, laying their eggs (one per female) on large, moss-covered branches in old growth Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and redwood trees.  Continue reading

Genetic research helps forest scientists determine which trees can survive global warming

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Can forests evolve to survive global warming?

Research will inform forest planning efforts

Staff Report

FRISCO — Spanish scientists say they can use genetic data to help determine which pine trees are most vulnerable to climate change, and which trees might be able to thrive in a warmer world. Their findings, published in GENETICS, could help forestry managers decide where to focus reforestation efforts and guide the choice of tree stocks.

The study focused on maritime pines, which grows widely in southwestern Europe and parts of northern Africa. But the tree’s important economic value and ecological roles in the region may be at risk as the changing climate threatens the more vulnerable forests and the productivity of commercial plantations. Continue reading

Forest Service finalizes national snowmobile rules

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Snowmobiles at Vail Pass, Colorado.

New policy requires designation of motorized winter use

Staff Report

FRISCO — With the recent huge growth in motorized winter sports, the Forest Service has been behind the curve in managing public lands, but last month, the agency released its final policy for managing snowmobile and other “over-snow” vehicle use.

As directed by court order, the policy requires that roads, trails and areas where over-snow vehicle use can occur be specifically designated by local Forest Service mangers. Previously, managers had the discretion to decide whether to designate specific areas for over-snow vehicle use. Continue reading

Global warming: California’s majestic redwoods at risk

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Redwoods at risk. bberwyn photo.

New study pinpoints climate-change threats to Pacific Northwest rainforests

Staff Report

FRISCO — Huge reservoirs of biodiversity in the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest are at risk as global warming reshapes climate conditions in the region.

Suitable habitat for majestic coastal redwoods could shrink by 23 percent, and other species like Alaska’s yellow cedars are already dying back as temperatures warm.

“In the Pacific Northwest, the glass is half empty as the climate may no longer support rainforest communities like coast redwood,” said Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, Chief Scientist of Geos Institute, announcing the results of a recent study that focused on the future distribution of eight rainforest conifers across a 2,200-mile stretch of coastal rainforests in the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, and Alaska. Continue reading

Jared Polis to serve on House Resources Committee

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Congressman Jared Polis.

Colorado lawmaker expected to be a pro-environment voice on a panel led conservative Republicans who often undermine federal efforts to manage public lands on the behalf of all Americans

Staff Report

FRISCO — A languishing proposal to create new wilderness areas in the Colorado mountains may get a boost in Congress this year, as U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (CO-02) joins the House Natural Resources Committee.

In the last two years, the committee has been a bastion of anti-government rhetoric, in some cases considering bills that would significantly weaken protection for natural resources and public lands. As a member of the minority, Polis won’t be able to get any meaningful legislation passed on his own, but his pro-environmental voice will be a welcome addition for public lands advocates. Continue reading

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