Western wildfires burning bigger and more often

Global warming seen as key factor in trend

wildfire acreage graph

Study documents significant trend in size and frequency of western wildfires.

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Western wildfires: How much bigger will they get?

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The size and frequency of western wildfires have been increasing at a startling rate the past few decades, researchers said this week after scrutinizing satellite data to measure burned areas.

The number of wildfires larger than 1,000 acres increased by a rate of seven fires a year from 1984 to 2011 and the total areas burned grew by about 90,000 acres per year — an area the size of Las Vegas, according to the new study accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal published by the American Geophysical Union.

“We looked at the probability that increases of this magnitude could be random, and in each case it was less than one percent,” said Philip Dennison, an associate professor of geography at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and lead author of the paper. Continue reading

Can golf clubs spark wildfires?

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You can add titanium alloy golf clubs to the list of things that can start wildfires.

Lab study shows titanium alloy clubs can generate super-hot sparks

Staff Report

FRISCO — As if there wasn’t already enough to worry about, golfers in the southwestern United States and other arid regions now have to keep in mind that their chip shot out of the rough could spark a wildfire.

High-tech titanium alloy clubs are the culprit, according scientists with the University of California, Irvine. When a club coated with the lightweight metal is swung and strikes a rock, it creates sparks that can heat to more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit for long enough to ignite dry foliage, according to the findings published recently in the peer-reviewed journal Fire and Materials. Continue reading

Good news, bad news for Colorado forests

Pine beetle infestation slows, but spruce beetles continue to spread

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Healthy spruce-fir forest at Vail Pass. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — There’s good news and bad news for Colorado forests, according to state and federal officials, who said last week that the mountain pine beetle epidemic slowed dramatically in 2013, while spruce beetles continued to spread.

Statewide, mountain pine beetles were active on 97,000 acres in 2013, the lowest acreage of active infestation in 15 years. Since 1996, mountain pine beetles have killed trees across 3.4 million acres.

Spruce beetle were active on 398,000 acres, expanding by 216,000 new acres in 2013, compared to 183,000 new acres in 2012. The total area affected by this beetle since 1996 has reached more than 1.1 million acres. Continue reading

Colorado ready to grant $5.2 million for wildfire risk reduction projects on non-federal lands

Heavy machinery is on the move in the quest to restore Summit County's forests.

Heavy machinery is on the move in the quest to restore Colorado’s forests.

Applications due March 13

Staff Report

FRISCO — Neighborhoods looking to reduce wildfire threats can now apply for grants under a state program that will disburse a total of $5.2 million for projects that reduce the risk for damage to property, infrastructure, and water supplies, and those that limit the likelihood of wildfires spreading into populated areas.

The grant program, administered by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, is accepting applications through March 13. The grants will be awarded in early May. Information and applications are online at the DNR website. Continue reading

Forests: New CU-Boulder study shows nuances in tree-killing pine beetle epidemic

Lodgepole pines killed by beetles stand silhoutted against the evening sky in Summit County, Colorado.

Lodgepole pines killed by beetles stand silhoutted against the evening sky in Summit County, Colorado.

Smooth-barked trees better able to repel insects

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Lodgepole and ponderosa pines with smoother bark may be better at repelling tree-killing bugs, according to Boulder-based researchers with the University of Colorado.

The new findings may help forest managers as they plan logging projects, especially in areas where there is a need to protect high-value trees — in developed recreation areas or on private property.

The study was published online in the journal Functional Ecology. While the current pine beetle epidemic has slowed dramatically in many areas, it wiped out millions of trees across 3.4 million acres since 1996. Continue reading

In the absence of fire, intensive mechanical treatments needed to keep ponderosa pine forests healthy

Before: Plenty of healthy grasses, forbs and shrubs, along with young lodgepole pines two to three feet tall.

Plenty of healthy grasses, forbs and shrubs, along with young lodgepole pines two to three feet tall in this unlogged patch of beetle-killed pines.

Shrub removal also key to moderating fire behavior

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Forest Service scientists say they’ve quantified the relationship between the density of ponderosa pine stands and disease.

The study shows that — no surprise — increased density, mainly due to the agency’s long-term fire suppression policies, makes the trees more susceptible to bark beetles and diseases. Competition for soil moisture, nutrients, and sunlight  in dense stands weakens trees and therefore also contributes to fuel buildup. Continue reading

Canadian researchers seek effective pine beetle bait

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Beetle-killed lodgepole pines in Summit County, Colorado.

Tracking pheromones may help resource managers slow the spread of infestation

By Summit Voice

*Read extensive coverage of mountain pine beetle and fores health at this Summit Voice link

FRISCO — While the mountain pine beetle epidemic has waned in most Colorado forests, the tiny insects are still killing huge swaths of trees in Canada, where researchers say they may be close finding an effective bait.

The University of Alberta scientists  say their results may enable forest managers to get ahead of the destructive spread of mountain pine beetle, which is now killing not only lodgepole pine forests, but jack pine. Continue reading

Environment: New model could boost forecasts for predicting behavior of large and complex wildfires

Local firefighters teamed up in March 2012 to quell an early season wildfire along Montezuma Road, near Keystone Resort, in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Local firefighters team up in March 2012 to quell an early season wildfire along Montezuma Road, near Keystone Resort, in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Updated satellite instruments help refine predictions

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — As the West Fork Fire Complex roared through the spruce and fir forests of the Colorado San Juans last summer, on its way to becoming the state’s second-largest wildfire on record, communities in the region were on edge for days. Slight shifts in wind pushed the fire in new directions every other day, forcing some residents to leave their homes for weeks.

Like many large fires, the West Fork Complex even created its own weather, making it even harder for experts to project its path. But new research by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Maryland may help firefighters and resource managers get a better handle on predicting fire behavior. Continue reading

Scientists caution against too much post-fire logging

Burned areas a critical piece of overall forest health

Post-fire landscapes are important in the big picture of long-term forest health. bberwyn photo.

Post-fire landscapes are important in the big picture of forest health. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With political momentum growing in support of more logging, a group of leading scientists is trying to counterbalance the forest crisis mythology that has developed in the past few years. That mythology has no basis in science and is promulgated to support a political agenda.

In an open letter to the U.S. Congress, the scientists asked Congress show restraint in speeding up logging in the wake of this year’s wildfires, most notably the Rim fire in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park.

It’s important to recognize that the scientists are not saying that there should neve be any logging, anywhere. Rather, the decisions need to be made in a measured way, considering all the environmental implications and the role that burned areas have in the bigger picture of long-term forest health. Continue reading

Forests: Does salvage logging in beetle-killed forests make economic sense for the Forest Service?

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Dead lodgepoles have became a common sight in Colorado during the past few years, and a new study confirms that the Forest Service loses money on many salvage logging projects.

Study shows that strong timber markets make all the difference

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A new Forest Service study confirms the conventional wisdom that, under current market conditions, salvage of beetle-killed timber in Colorado is not good for the agency’s bottom line.

The researchers evaluated potential potential revenues from harvesting standing timber killed by mountain pine beetle across the western United States. Positive net revenues are possible in regions with strong timber markets, including along the West Coast and in the northern Rockies.

The central Rocky Mountain states of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming — which have the largest volume of standing dead timber — would not generate positive net revenues by salvaging beetle-killed timber, the study concluded. In Colorado, there have been efforts to create more markets for beetle-killed wood, but there doesn’t yet seem to be a critical mass of demand.

The study did not examine other factors that might influence land management decisions, such as fire risk reduction, improvement in stand conditions, or jobs. Continue reading

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