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Are New Mexico forests holding steady in the face of climate change, drought and wildfires?

New inventory assesses state’s woodland resources
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STAFF REPORT

FRISCO — Mortality is increasing and growth is slowing down in New Mexico’s forest lands, according to a new forest inventory released in late August. The only species showing overall growth are ponderosa and piñon pines, as well as junipers, as insects, wildfires drought and disease take an increasing toll on the state’s woodlands.

Forests grow on about 25 million acres in New Mexico, with 44 percent on private lands and 31 percent on national forest lands. About 40 percent (10.8 million acres) of the forests are piñon-juniper woodlands, by far the state’s most extensive forest type. Gambel oak is the most abundant tree species by number of trees, and ponderosa pine is the most abundant by volume or biomass. Overall, researchers estimate there are more than 6 billion live trees growing in the state.

The inventory documented the drought-induced piñon pine die-off in the early 2000s, estimating that about 8 percent the species died, but noted that the mortality rate has tapered off.New Mexico’s aspen forests, covering about 380,000 acres, held steady in the past decade. Continue reading

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Forest fragmentation alters global carbon cycle

Careful measurements show how roads and other disturbances affect moisture and the ability of fungi and bacteria to break down dead wood

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Forest fragmentation has a big impact on the carbon cycle. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO —Logging roads, clearcuts and other disturbances that fragment forests can slow the decay of dead wood and significantly alter the cycling of carbon and nutrients in woodland ecosystems, according to a new study.

Scientists with Earthwatch and the University of Exeter (UK) took a hard look at global forest fragmentation, starting the well-known fact that the edge effect influences temperature, moisture and other elements of forest microclimates. But the effect on the carbon cycle is less understood, so the researchers used on-the-ground experiments combined with modeling to try and fill the gaps. Continue reading

The Rocky Mountain Climate Ranger project

Crowdfunding project includes matching funds

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The generous response to last month’s call for grassroots donations has encouraged us to tap into a great fundraising opportunity with Beacon, a cool new journalism incubator and crowdfunding platform.

More than 20 people, from California to Pennsylvania, responded with donation. We know there are more Summit Voice readers and subscribers ready to step up, and this could be the best time, with a generous sponsor willing to match every dollar you donate. Continue reading

Wildfire activity well below average for year to-date

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The far West and northern Great Basin are especially prone to wildfires this summer.

Potential for big fires still a concern in California

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For the first time in 10 years, the acreage burned by wildfires was less than 1 million acres as of the beginning of July. With extreme drought and high fire danger in parts of the far West, that could change quickly, but for now, both the number of fires and the acreage affected is well below average for the season, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

To-date, 26,684 fires have burned across about 909,000 acres, less than half he average 2.5 million acres for this time of year. By comparison, wildfires had already burned across more than 1.7 million acres last year at this time. In 2011 that number was at 4.8 million acres. Continue reading

Colorado: Forest Service comment letter shows breadth and depth of impacts from Denver Water’s diversion plan

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More water from the West Slope? Not the best idea, says the U.S. Forest Service. bberwyn photo.

Current plan underestimates impacts to water and wildlife

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — As currently spelled out, Denver Water’s plan to divert more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River will result in unacceptable impacts to wildlife and other resources on publicly owned national forest lands, the U.S. Forest Service wrote in a June 9 comment letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Forest Service also wrote that the creation of a pool of environmental water in an expanded Gross Reservoir doesn’t compensate for the loss of two acres of wetlands and 1.5 miles of stream habitat that will be lost as a result of the expansion. Continue reading

Colorado boosts funding for early wildfire response

From flood to flames: Western Colorado under Red Flag warning; wildfire danger highest in far west and Southwest

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Wildfire potential for July 2014 courtesy NIFC.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — It doesn’t take long to go from floods to fire in Colorado. Even with mountain streams still running high with runoff, weather experts say the fire danger is on the rise as June turns warm and windy. About a third of the state (mostly western Colorado) is under a Red Flag warning going into the weekend, with the National Weather Service warning that warm temps, low humidity and gusty winds will combine to raise the risk of wildfires.

Overall, the fire season outlook for Colorado is not as critical as the past few years, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, which is emphasizing the current fire danger in the far west and the Southwest, including big parts of Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. Continue reading

Forest Service details cost of ‘fire borrowing’

A NASA satellite image shows smoke plumes from the massive wildfires in Alberta.

A NASA satellite image shows smoke plumes from the massive wildfires in Alberta.

Numerous Colorado projects delayed as feds juggle budgets in era of monster wildfires

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — U.S. Forest Service officials said they’ve had to defer reviews of ski area projects, delay trail improvements and forest restoration work because of the high cost of fighting wildfires. This year, the agency projects a $470 million gap that ripples through the entire Forest Service budget.

More than a dozen important projects in Colorado were on the hit list, according to a  new report released this week by the Department of Agriculture. Some of the projects were canceled altogether because their funding has been diverted to fighting wildfires.   Continue reading

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