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What drives extreme fires? It’s mostly the weather

Forest Service scientists study aftermath of Rim Fire to assess effectiveness of forest health treatments

A NASA Earth Observatory image shows smoke plumes from the Rim Fire in August, 2013. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

A NASA Earth Observatory image shows smoke plumes from the Rim Fire in August, 2013. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

Staff Report

FRISCO — A detailed new study of fire behavior of the 2013 Rim Fire in Yosemite provides a nuanced view of the effectiveness of forest health treatments.

The Rim Fire was the largest recorded fire in the Sierra Nevada region, and U.S. Forest Service researchers said in their study that the fire burned with moderate to high intensity on days the Rim Fire was dominated by a large pyro-convective plume, a powerful column of smoke, gases, ash, and other debris — regardless of the number of prior fires, topography, or forest conditions. Continue reading

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Humble fungi may aid whitebark pine recovery

PHOTO COURTESY USFS/RICHARD SNIEZKO

Can mushrooms help save whitebark pines? Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Scientists report success in treating seedlings with mushroom spores

Staff Report

FRISCO — High-elevation whitebark pines are under the gun in the northern Rockies. White pine blister rust, an invasive fungus, and pine beetles have combined to drive the species toward extinction.

But scientists trying to recover the species say that a humble mushroom could help their efforts. A three-year experiment shows a 10 to 15 percent increase in the survival rate of whitebark pine seedlings when Siberian slippery jack spores are injected into the soil around them. The injection takes place in nurseries before the seedlings are transplanted in the mountains. Continue reading

White River National Forest updates oil and gas plan

74,000 acres in roadless areas still open to fossil fuel development with a no surface occupation stipulation

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Most oil and gas development on the White River National Forest is limited to the far western zones in areas where drilling is already common.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The White River National Forest wants to open up nearly 200,000 acres for oil and gas drilling leases, including 74,000 acres in designated roadless areas where there would be restrictions on surface activities.

The long-awaited update to the forest’s oil and gas leasing map were released this week by the agency in a final environmental impact study and a draft record of decision, subject to a 60-day objection period. The final EIS is online here.

WRNF supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said he chose a “conservation-minded” option that prioritizes recreational and natural resources values over energy development across most of the forest. Most of the lands open for leasing follow the pattern of recent energy development in areas with high potential for fossil fuel development.

“Over one million acres of the White River National Forest are not geologically conducive for natural gas production, and another 800,000 acres are legally withdrawn. In addition, I have decided to close 213,000 acres of the White River National Forest to leasing in order to protect and maintain the natural character of these areas and protect important wildlife habitat,” Fitzwilliams said. Continue reading

Climate: Logging leads to long-term release of carbon from soils in Northeastern hardwood forests

Findings challenge carbon-balance assumptions of woody biomass energy boosters

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A forest health logging site on Swan Mountain near Dillon, Colorado. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Logging forests may have a more significant impact on carbon storage in soils than previously believed, Dartmouth College researchers found after taking a close look at at how timber harvesting affects mineral soil carbon over 100 years.

The study found that, while logging  doesn’t immediately release carbon stored in a forest’s mineral soils into the atmosphere, it triggers a gradual release that may contribute to climate change over decades. Continue reading

Colorado: Senators Udall and Bennet ask President Obama to use Antiquities Act to designate Browns Canyon as a national monument

Gridlock in Congress prompts request for designation

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There’s a new push to create a national monument along the Arkansas River.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Citing gridlock in Congress, Colorado’s U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet have asked President Obama to consider designating Browns Canyon, in Chaffee County, as a national monument under the Antiquities Act.

The request comes as Congress has all but ignored a huge backlog of public lands bills primarily based on ideological opposition to land protection measures by House Republican committee chairs.

According to Udall and Bennet’s Nov. 25 letter to President Obama, community leaders in the Browns Canyon area suggested the Antiquities Act path, recognizing the significant economic benefits of the designation for regional tourism-based businesses. Continue reading

Summit County session to focus on forest management

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What now, forests?

Panel features White River NF chief Scott Fitzwilliams and Colorado State Forest Service director Mike Lester

Staff Report

FRISCO — A lot of seedlings have sprouted since Summit County experienced the biggest pine beetle outbreak that anyone can remember, and the debate over the future of Colorado’s forests is very much alive — how much of the forest can we manage, and how can we make sure that will help forests in the long run?

With the goal of creating more resilient and diverse forests, one aspect of the discussion centers on differences between active and passive management. This week, the Summit County Forest Health Task Force will host a panel discussion on forest management (Nov. 20, 6-8 p.m. at the Summit County Community & Senior Center, County Commons). Continue reading

Environment: Shangri-La no more?

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Study examines nexus of forest, tourism policies

Staff Report

FRISCO — It may be Shangri-La no more if centralized government policies from Beijing continue to supplant community based management schemes for the incredibly diverse temperate forests of China’s northwest Yunnan Province.

Dartmouth scientists found in a recent study that China’s anti-logging, conservation and ecotourism policies are accelerating the loss of old-growth forests in the region, which symbolizes the tensions associated with China’s economic transformation. Continue reading

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