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

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

Colorado: Summit County forests make big comeback after pine beetle epidemic

Forest Service replanting key areas, monitoring regeneration

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Just a few years after logging projects, forests are making a comeback in areas around Pine Cove campground, near Frisco, Colorado.

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A temporary logging road along the Frisco Peninsula.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — With mountain pine beetle populations at their lowest level in 30 years, it’s safe to say that the forest health crisis actually turned out to be a much-needed catharsis for Summit County’s overgrown lodgepole pine forests.

U.S. Forest Service researchers are finding that most of the area hit by the bugs are showing encouraging signs of regrowth. Logged areas are primarily seeing dense lodgepole regeneration, along with some aspens. Non-logged areas are also growing back, and some early data suggests that subalpine fir may replace lodepole pines as the dominant species.

Along with continued logging operations in red zone areas, the U.S. Forest Service has been busy replanting some key areas, notably around campgrounds. Altogether, the agency has planted about a quarter of a million seedlings across the White River National Forest in the last three to four years, according to silviculturist Jan Burke, who has tracked the arc of the beetle infestation. Just this past summer, the Forest Service, with help from volunteer partners, planted about 90,000 trees. Continue reading

Multiple wildfires burning in Colorado

West Fork complex closes Highway 160, spurs evacuations

The Lime Gulch Fire burning in live trees near Conifer, Colorado. Photo courtesy Jefferson County Sheriff's Office.

The Lime Gulch Fire burning in live trees near Conifer, Colorado. Photo courtesy Jefferson County Sheriffs Office.

A helicopter drops water on the Lime Gulch Fire. Photo courtesy InciWeb.org.

A helicopter drops water on the Lime Gulch Fire. Photo courtesy InciWeb.org.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The West Fork Complex in the San Juan mountains has quickly grown to become Colorado’s largest wildfire of the season. In just a few days, the two fires near Wolf Creek Pass have spread across about 18,000 acres, burning in rugged backcountry territory choked with beetle-killed spruce trees.

Firefighters have been focusing on trying to protect developments potentially in the path of the fire, including Wolf Creek Ski Area and residential areas around South Fork. Continue reading

More wildfires burning in Colorado

Evacuations in effect forLime Gulch Fire

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The West Fork Fire complex has grown to more than 600 acres in the rugged San Juan backcountry of southwest Colorado. Photo courtesy InciWeb.org.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With several new wildfires burning in Colorado and red flag warnings in effect for much of the state, Summit County officials have put a temporary hold on slash burning permits.

“We all have seen the tragic consequences of wildfires yet again in our state, and we want to do everything we can to prevent an out-of-control blaze here in Summit County,” said Lake Dillon Fire Chief Dave Parmley. “This is a worthwhile precaution, especially as we have three teams of firefighters out of the county on the Black Forest fire, as well as two other wildfire leaders assigned to other blazes.”

The Black Forest Fire may be in a mop-up phase, but the Lime Gulch Fire near Conifer and Evergreen is still growing. The Jefferson County fire was initially called the Chair Rock Fire but officials changed the name about about 3:20 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.

The Jefferson County Emergency Blog has been activated to support the Chair Rock Fire, burning in the area of Foxton Road and River Road near Conifer, Colorado.

A level three evacuation (leave now) has been issued for the areas within a three-mile radius of the Foxton Road and River Road intersection. According to the JeffCo emergency blog, 410 phones were called within this evacuation area.  Deputies are in the area going door to door to assist with the evacuations. Continue reading

Wildfires: Budget woes to affect fuels treatments, post-fire rehab

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A wildfire burns in Keystone Gulch, near the base of Keystone Ski Area, in June, 2011.

Fewer firefighers, less wildfire fuels treatments and less post-fire rehab

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The federal budget crunch means firefighters will have to do more with less this summer, federal officials said this week. Because of the sequester, the Forest Service will not fill 500 firefighting positions and will make do with 50 less engines on the ground.

“We are facing another dangerous wildfire season. We are prepared; we’re not as funded as we might be about 5 years from now, so teamwork is really critical to what we have to do,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, speaking Monday at a briefing at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise Idaho.

In particular, parts of the West are facing another challenging fire season, with greatest potential threats in the Pacific Coast states and into the interior northwest, including Idaho and southwest Montana, according to the center’s predictive services team. Continue reading

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