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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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Study: Colorado forests not doomed

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New dawn for Colorado’s beetle-killed forests.

Intensive research shows vigorous regrowth in beetle-killed tracts

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — After years of uncertainty over the future of Colorado’s forest landscapes, a new study by U.S. Forest Service scientists puts the recent pine epidemic into perspective.

The insect outbreak ultimately will result in more diverse and resilient forests in the long run, adding structural complexity and species diversity, researchers with the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station concluded after carefully monitoring regrowth in beetle-killed stands.

New growth is surging under the dying lodgepole canopy with the vertical growth rate of lodgepole and fir doubling in beetle-killed areas that were left untreated after the epidemic. Harvested stands also showed strong lodgepole regrowth, with aspen gaining ground in some places.

“Forests come and go … It’s not a crisis, but this was an amazing synchronism,” Forest Service biogeochemist Chuck Rhoades said of the massive pine beetle outbreak that will alter the forest landscape of the Southern Rockies for generations to come.

The bugs swarmed across vast swaths of the Canadian Rockies; they’ve invaded the Front Range and moved east to the Dakotas, especially the forests of the Black Hills.

“This event is not over, but the fear part should be over,” said Rhoades, who, with a team of researchers from the Fort Collins-based Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, has been carefully studying regeneration in beetle-killed areas. “But the idea of forest health and maintaining forest ecosystem processes is something we’ll always be thinking about,” he said. Continue reading

Climate: Bark beetles invading high-elevation forests

Whitebark pines are in imminent danger of extinction, and global warming is one of the most significant threats to the species. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Whitebark pines are in imminent danger of extinction, and global warming is one of the most significant threats to the species. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Researchers see threat to whitebark pines

By Summit Voice

FRISCO —Bark beetles have already killed millions of acres of mid-elevation forests across the West, and warming temperatures are enabling the tree-killing bugs to invade higher elevations, where they are attacking trees that haven’t evolved with strong defenses to repel them.

Global warming is essentially giving the insects a huge advantage, as the trees, with their long lifespans, have no chance to develop biological resistance, according to researchers from the the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who report a rising threat to the whitebark pine forests of the northern Rocky Mountains. Continue reading

Colorado: U.S. Forest Service offers up more logging subsidies

Two new 10-year stewardship contracts will help address the need for forest fuel reduction treatments. Bob Berwyn photo.

Stewardship contracts to help sustain forest products and energy businesses

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —The U.S. Forest Service will spend millions to prop up the wood product industry in Colorado and to subsidize more widespread logging projects in the name of forest health, restoration and renewable energy.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week announced two 10-year Forest Service stewardship contracts worth a total of $13.4 million. The two contracts identify projects that will treat a minimum of 20,000 acres in two national forests, providing woody biomass for potential energy production.

“Today’s announcement supports our commitment to accelerate restoration of our national forests and to generate and sustain jobs in rural America,” said USDA Under Secretary Harris Sherman. “Not only will these contracts help us alleviate the impacts of the mountain pine beetle infestation and reduce the threats of catastrophic wildfire, but they also will offer a supply of woody biomass that will be used to produce low-cost heat and a clean, renewable source of electricity.”  Continue reading

Colorado: Can we log our way to forest health?

Still lots of dead trees around the Colorado high country.

Forest health task force session wants to answer that question

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — just a week after Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to support more logging, the Summit County Forest Health Task Force will hold a roundtable to discuss barriers to forest health.

The meeting, which includes lunch, is from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Frisco Community Building, 110 Third Avenue South, Frisco (one block south of Main Street). Participants include: Lyle laverty, Cary Green, Matt Sugar, Bruce Ward, Howard Hallman, Brad Piehl and Sandy Briggs. Please RSVP by calling or emailing Howard Hallman at (719) 491-1807 or future1946@yahoo.com.

Udall last week urged Vilsack to support proactive forest management by utilizing the timber industry to reduce fuel loads in wildfire-prone areas and improve community safety throughout the West. Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), John Thune (R-S.D.) signed onto Udall’s letter. Continue reading

Gov. Hickenlooper to visit Frisco for forest health session

Two meetings next week to focus on forest and wildfire issues

Summit County residents are invited to a forest health powwow with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. Photo by Bob Berwyn.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Grappling with the aftermath of Colorado’s most destructive wildfire season on record, state, federal and local officials will meet Oct. 12 for a half-day forest health summit at the Colorado History Center in Denver.

And in what could be a condensed preview of the Denver powwow, Gov. Hickenlooper will visit Summit County Oct. 10 to participate in a one-hour forest health and wildfire forum at the Summit County Community and Senior Center (10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.).

“Obviously Gov. Hickenlooper is the headliner … it’s an opportunity for Summit County to share with the Governor concerns, successes and opportunities on forest health,” said county commissioner Dan Gibbs, explaining that the session is partly aimed at sharing information about potential options to protect Colorado communities from a repeat of this past summer’s fires. Continue reading

Summit County: Task force to provide overview and update of local forest health efforts

Learn more about local forest conditions this week with the Summit Forest Health Task Force.

Aug. 29 lunch meeting includes info on local logging and restoration

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Local forests appear to be starting a comeback from a decade-long pine beetle invasion that killed up to 75 percent of mature lodgepole pines in the area, says Howard Hallman, co-director of the Summit Forest Health Task Force, which has been tracking the course of the epidemic and working with stakeholders to spur mitigation and restoration efforts.

The task force is hosting a lunchtime roundtable this week (Aug. 29) to update the community on beetle-kill logging projects in the area, as well as on efforts to monitor the state of local forests in the wake of the insect outbreak. The meeting is at the Mt. Royal Room in the County Commons and includes pizza, salad and drinks. Continue reading

Report: Wildfire mitigation work largely ineffective in moderating the 2010 Fourmile Canyon Fire near Boulder

Due to surface fuel accumulation, Fourmile Canyon Fire burned more intensely in some treated zones

Even widely spaced trees can readily ignite and burn when crowns extend down to the  forest  floor near surface fuels.  Photo courtesy USFS/Molly Wineteer.

This logged area in Summit County near I-70 may be more susceptible to a catastrophic crown fire because of the high concentration of surface and ladder fuels left after the treatment. Photo by Bob Berwyn.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —A report on the 2010 Fourmile Canyon Fire will probably raise more questions than it answers for firefighters and land managers, concluding that, in some cases, the ferocious fire near Boulder may have burned more intensely in treated areas than in adjacent untreated stands.

That may have been due to the relatively high concentration of surface fuels remaining after treatments, as well as the higher wind speeds that can occur in open forests compared to those with denser canopies, Forest Service researchers concluded in the report published last month.

Up until the horrific fire storms of this summer, the Fourmile Canyon blaze was the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history measured by the number of homes lost (162), and a recently finalized U.S. Forest Service report on the Fourmile Canyon fire is eerily prescient. Continue reading

Study: Forest disturbance key to diversity

Forest disturbances help boost diversity.

Natural patterns of disturbance and regrowth can guide land use practices

By Summit Voice

As much as we picture a “perfect forest’ in our mind’s eye, the reality is that forests are dynamic ecosystems, subject to windstorms, avalanches, insect invasions and wildfires. And while the widespread perception is that these so-called disasters are a blight on forests, they are, in fact, crucial drivers of diversity and renewal.

 

Washington State University scientist Mark Swanson recently studied forest areas hit by major disturbances, including the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption and suggested that land managers can alter practices to mimic disturbances an enhance diversity, creating areas with a wide variety of species, including rare and endangered plants and animals.

“The 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens … created very diverse post-eruption conditions, and has some of the highest plant and animal diversity in the western Cascades range,” said Swanson, an assistant professor of landscape ecology and silviculture in Washington State University’s School of the Environment. Continue reading

Forests: Red, dead needles burn faster

Researchers continue to pinpoint the fire risk associated with beetle-killed trees.

New study helps quantify ignition time of beetle-killed trees

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Chemical changes in pine attacked by bark beetles start as soon as two weeks after the bugs start to burrow under the bark and make the trees more prone to ignition.

Overall, beetle-killed trees in the early and mid-stages of infestation may pose a greater risk of fast-spreading crown fires, though other factors are also important, including the structure of the tree, the presence or absence of ground and ladder fuels and terrain and weather. Continue reading

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