Aerial survey shows pine beetles waning, but spruce beetles continue to spread across Colorado forests

Aerial surveys help track forest changes over time

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Nearly every mature spruce has been killed by spruce beetle in this drainage on the Rio Grande National Forest.Photo: Brian Howell.

Spruce beetles are spreading quickly in southwestern Colorado.

Spruce beetles are spreading quickly in southwestern Colorado. Graph courtesy USFS.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — There’s good news and bad news from Colorado’s forests. Mountain pine beetle activity has faded to the lowest level since 1996, but spruce beetles continue to spread in the San Juans and in northwestern Colorado.

The spruce beetle outbreak was detected on 485,000 acres in 2014, compared to 398,000 acres across the state in 2013, according to the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service. The annual aerial survey by the two agencies shows that the spruce beetle outbreak expanded to 253,000 new acres. Continue reading

Study: Small trees key to long-term forest survival

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Forest treatments that focus on removing smaller trees may not be the best tool for western dry forests, according to new research by University of Wyoming scientists.

Study shows many treatments in western dry forests are misguided

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Mid-elevation forests in the western U.S. have survived centuries of drought, wildfires and insect onslaughts by hedging their bets with a diversity of tree sizes, Wyoming researchers said after studying forest plots from the Pacific Northwest down to Arizona and New Mexico.

The research showed that the biggest threat to those forests is from insects and not wildfires. Historically abundant small trees enable those forests to rebound after tree-killing bugs move through. Continue reading

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

Is smart land-use planning the best way to reduce wildfire risks?

‘Solely relying on public forest management to prevent homes burning by wildfire is simply barking up the wrong tree’

A wildfire burns through a western conifer forest. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

A wildfire burns through a western conifer forest. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Aggressive firefighting and preventive forest treatments are not making people less vulnerable to wildfire impacts. Instead, government authorized and funded  firefighting and land management policies may actually encourage development on inherently hazardous landscapes, leading to an amplification of human losses to wildfire, according to researchers with the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Colorado.

Their recent study in Nature says an adaptive approach, including changes in land-use policies, are the key to reducing wildfire risks, according to researchers with the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Colorado.

Continue reading

Study shows some types of beetle outbreaks may inhibit crown fires in Pacific Northwest forests

Spruce beetle populations are surging in the southern Rocky Mountains. bberwyn photo.

Spruce beetle populations are surging in the southern Rocky Mountains. bberwyn photo.

Study calls out inaccurate media reports about links between bugs and wildfires

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Dire warnings about how beetle outbreaks make forests more prone to fires are ringing increasingly hollow, as more and more forest research shows that other factors — especially weather — are more important drivers. In some cases, defoliation by bugs may actually lessen the the threat of disastrous crown fires.

In one of the latest studies, researchers with the University of Oregon and the U.S. Forest Service took a close look at the relationship between fires and spruce budworm infestations in the Pacific Northwest. They found that defoliation reduces both torching and crowning potential. Continue reading

Study: Pine beetle outbreaks not a big factor in the ecological severity of Western wildfires

Dead and dying lodgepole pines in Frisco, Colorado.

Dead and dying lodgepole pines in Frisco, Colorado.

Study shows no clear link between beetle-kill and ecological severity of western wildfires

Staff Report

FRISCO — For all their frenzied tree-killing during the past 10 years, mountain pine beetles haven’t been a big factor in the ecological severity of wildfires in the West, a team of university scientists said this week.

Weather and topography are the main factors in determining how much damage a wildfire does to forest ecosystems, according to the researchers with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides some of the first rigorous field data to test whether fires that burn in areas impacted by mountain pine beetles are more ecologically severe than in those not attacked by the native bug. The study didn’t look at fire behavior, including how fast they spread or how dangerous they are to fight. Continue reading

New study challenges the conventional wisdom on severity of Front Range wildfires in Colorado

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A new study examines the history of wildfires along the Colorado Front Range.

Historic wildfires in the pre-suppression era burned just as intensely, scientists say

Staff Report

FRISCO — New research challenges the conventional wisdom that wildfires along the Colorado Front Range have become more severe.

A detailed assessment of fire history across more 1 million acres of forest suggests that only 16 percent of the area showed a shift from historically low-severity fires to severe, potential crown fires that can jump from treetop to treetop.

Even in the days before fire suppression, fires along the Front Range were often destructive, killing many mature trees in the burn areas, the study concluded. Continue reading

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