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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

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

Is out-of-state firewood a threat to Colorado trees?

Trees? Or toothpicks?

Beetle-killed trees near Frisco, Colorado.

State Forest Service warns against transporting firewood

Staff Report

FRISCO — It may be a little like the Dutch boy putting his finger in the leaky dike, but Colorado Forest Service officials are warning that transporting firewood from place to place may increase the spread of invasive tree-killing bugs.

Moving firewood even short distances increases the risk to Colorado’s native forests and urban trees. With the 2013 detection of the highly destructive emerald ash borer in the City of Boulder, and ongoing bark beetle epidemics in the state’s mountain forests, the Colorado State Forest Service wants to be sure people are aware of the risks associated with moving firewood. Continue reading

Feds see $470 million gap in firefighting budget

 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.

Firefighters teamed up in March 2012 to quell an early season wildfire near Keystone Resort, in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Funding shortfall has ripple effect in other public lands programs

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — With a dangerous fire season forecast for parts of the country, especially the drought-stricken far West and Southern Plains, federal firefighting agencies will likely once again face a huge budget shortfall. That could require the Forest Service to divert funds from other programs, according to top administration officials who presented the report to Congress.

The report projects firefighting costs of about $1.8 billion, with only $1.4 billion budgeted. The Obama administration is advocating for a budget that would close the gap by giving firefighting agencies the ability to use emergency funds separate from their discretionary budgets to fight fires.

Similar legislation is pending in Congress, where the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act is cosponsored by Sen.Michal Bennet (D-CO) and Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). Continue reading

Forests: Spruce beetles spreading fast in southern Rockies

State report details status of insect activities

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Spruce beetles are widely active across the mountains of southern Colorado.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Windstorms, mild winters and drought are the key factors in the continued spread of spruce beetles, which have become the dominant change agent in Colorado forests the past few years.

According to the latest annual forest health report compiled by state forest experts, spruce beetles were active across 398,000 acres in 2013, affected more than triple the amount of acreage than mountain pine beetles. Continue reading

Logging no panacea for pine beetle outbreaks

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Can we log our way to forest health?

Science sometimes missing from forest management policies

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — While politicians and policy makers continue to conflate a number of complex forest health and wildfire issues, a new study suggests there’s little evidence supporting the idea that logging helps to control or contain the spread of tree-killing pine beetles.

Nobody disputes the need to clear trees, brush and other fuels from around homes in fire-prone forest areas, but some lawmakers who should know better have been pushing for more logging under the guise of restoring forest health and as an antidote to insect infestations.

The idea that speedy approval of logging projects could help restore forest health was also used as a basis for short-cutting environmental reviews for logging projects, possibly resulting in negative long-term environmental impacts in forests.

But forest researchers in California and Montana said there isn’t much monitoring to assess the effectiveness of logging, and that failures often aren’t reported, probably because they don’t fit the popular narrative. Continue reading

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