One more time: Beetle-killed forests are NOT more likely to burn, according to new CU-Boulder study

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Beetle-killed lodgepole pines in Colorado. bberwyn photo.

New CU-Boulder study has implications for forest managers and Red Zone communities

Staff Report

*More Summit Voice stories on beetle-kill and forests here.

FRISCO — Communities and resource managers looking to address the threat of wildfires should focus less on tree-killing beetles and more on the underlying forces driving the trend toward larger fires.

Warmer temperatures and increased drought are the key factors, said Colorado-based researchers who took a close look at patterns of beetle-kill and wildfires in recent years.

Their study found that western forests killed by mountain pine beetles are no more at risk to burn than healthy forests. Those findings  fly in the face of both public perception and policy, the scientists acknowledged.

“What we are seeing in this study is that at broad scales, fire does not necessarily follow mountain pine beetles,” said CU-Boulder Research Scientist Tania Schoennagel, of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “It’s well known, however, that fire does follow drought.” Continue reading

Environment: Logging industry fails yet again to strip Pacific Northwest protection for marbled murrelets

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Marbled murrelet in a moss nest. Courtesy USFWS.

Fifth lawsuit rejected by courts

Staff Report

FRISCO — Marbled murrelets along the Pacific Northwest Coast will continue to benefit from the protection of the Endangered Species Act, as a federal appeals court last week rejected yet another logging industry attempt to open more coastal old-growth forest to logging.

The robin-sized birds feed at sea but nest only in old-growth forests along the Pacific Coast, laying their eggs (one per female) on large, moss-covered branches in old growth Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and redwood trees.  Continue reading

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

Disturbances have big effect on carbon uptake in southeastern forests

Florida oak.

Florida oak.

‘Continued forest carbon accumulation in the region is highly sensitive to land use transitions’

Staff Report

FRISCO — Forest disturbances, such as fire, disease, and cutting, as well as the impacts of land use change, may be slowing the carbon uptake of southeastern U.S. forests, according to a new U.S. Forest Service study.

The research shows that future carbon accumulation rates are highly sensitive to land use changes. Land use choices that either reduce the rate of afforestation or increase the rate of deforestation are key factors in future forest carbon accumulation, the scientists concluded in their report, published in the journal Scientific Reports. Continue reading

Study: California’s biggest, oldest trees fading fast

Oaks, stands of dense, small trees becoming dominant

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Redwood trees in California. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Hand-written notes from old forest surveys have helped scientists track long-term changes in California forests, including a decline of large trees of up to 50 percent in the Sierra Nevada highlands, the south and central coast ranges and Northern California.

The research team  from the University of California, Berkeley, UC Davis and the U.S. Geological Survey compared unique forest surveys collected by UC Berkeley alumnus Albert Wieslander in the 1920s and ’30s with recent U.S. Forest Service data to show that the decline of large trees and increase in the density of smaller trees is not unique to the state’s mountains. 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

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