Study says some forests may not recover from mega-disturbances in the global warming era

Colorado aspens

There have been significant die-backs in Colorado aspen forests during recent hot droughts and the stands may never regenerate in some areas because of global warming. @bberwyn photo.

Giant fires, insect outbreaks could be ‘game-changer’ for some forests

Staff Report

FRISCO —Forest Service researchers say “mega-disturbances” like giant wildfires and insect outbreaks are likely to hasten the slow demise of temperate forest ecosystems in the coming decades.

Even without those large-scale events, some forests appear to be transitioning to shrublands and steppe, and big disturbances could speed that process, according to a new study published this month in Science. Continue reading

New study details global warming impact to forests

‘We expect to see widespread declines in forest productivity’

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Red beetle-killed lodgepole pines in the White River National Forest near Frisco, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The vulnerability of the world’s forests to global warming has been widely underestimated, a group of scientists concluded after taking a hard look at all the scientific data on forest mortality.

“We expect to see widespread declines in forest productivity, changes in the species composition and dominance patterns of forest trees, a shift to smaller-sized trees, and reductions in forest extent in some regions,” said U.S. Geological Survey researcher Craig Allen, adding that, even forests in wetter parts of the world are going to be affected by rapidly warming global temperatures. Continue reading

House GOP tries to slash forest environmental rules

Logging on the Frisco Peninsula, Sept. 2011. @bberwyn photo.

Logging on the Frisco Peninsula, Sept. 2011. @bberwyn photo.

‘The public will be looking at irreparable habitat damage, polluted watersheds and drinking water and a devastated outdoor economy’

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Anti-environmental Republicans in the House are once again trying to fast-track logging projects under the guise of forest health. They also want to discourage citizen involvement in forest management decisions and try and stop conservation groups from challenging illegal logging projects in court.

The House last week passed H.R. 2647, with the Orwellian name of “Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015.”

Here’s a bill summary posted at govtrack.us:

“The Resilient Federal Forests Act would make a variety of changes to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service forest management standards such as requiring studies on plans in response to forest fires, insect and disease infestation, and catastrophic events. It would also make it more difficult to issue a lawsuit against the Forest Service by requiring plaintiffs who lose lawsuits to pay for the agency’s legal expenses, and in some cases by exempting the agency from paying the plaintiff’s legal expenses if the plaintiff wins.”

Govtrack gives the bill just a 15 percent chance of being signed into law, mainly because the extreme rightwingers in the House included language that won’t be acceptable to moderate Republicans in the Senate.

In effect, the House GOP quashed any real chance at passing any meaningful forest management reform because they insisted on pursuing an extreme, ideologically bill. That becomes apparent when you read the statement from Rob Bishop, the Utah Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee:

“The verdict is in. The draconian environmental policies and litigation assaults of the past thirty years have failed our forests. Horrific wildfires are running rampant in our National Forest System. H.R. 2647 gives the Forest Service the resources it needs to suppress these devastating wildfires and gives them the tools they need to prevent fires before they start. I am proud of Rep. Westerman and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their advancement of H.R. 2647, a bill which makes enormous progress toward restoring the health of our treasured national forests.”

Conservation groups are not thrilled about the bill. Defenders of Wildlife said the measure would “bulldoze bedrock environmental laws to pave the way for dramatic increases in logging in forests across America.”

This bill turns back the clock 50 years on forest management and puts our nation’s forests at risk by green-lighting reckless logging practices, damaging vital wildlife habitat, short-cutting critical environmental review, and limiting public involvement in forest management decisions.

“This is a sad testament to the fact that instead of leading the charge on conserving America’s valued forests, many in Congress seem bent on casting aside our nation’s foundational conservation laws,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO, Defenders of Wildlife. “Dramatically increasing logging based upon little to no environmental analysis is like racing down the highway with your windshield painted black. You know that the outcome will not be good. The public will be looking at irreparable habitat damage, polluted watersheds and drinking water and a devastated outdoor economy.

“Rather than recklessly rolling back time-tested conservation laws, Congress should focus on the one and only legislative reform actually needed for our nation’s forests—properly funding the fire-fighting budget,” Rappaport Clark said.

New bug outbreak hitting Colorado trees

State foresters say pine needle scale infestation may be linked with heavy use of pesticides in war against pine beetles

Pine needle scale is weakening and killing conifer trees in the Colorado mountains.

Pine needle scale is weakening and killing conifer trees in the Colorado mountains, possibly as a result of the earlier heavy application of pesticides used to try and kill mountain pine beetles. @bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Colorado forest experts are documenting an unprecedented outbreak of pine needle scale on conifer trees in Grand, Summit and Eagle counties that may be linked with the widespread application of pesticides used several years ago to try and kill mountain pine beetles.

The intensive use of those pesticides may have wiped out beneficial insects like predatory wasps and beetles that keep pine needle scale in check, said Granby-based Ron Cousineau, district forester for the Colorado State Forest Service.

“Most of the concentrated spray for mountain pine beetle ended about three, four or five years ago. That’s when we started seeing the buildup of pine needle scale,” Cousineau said. Continue reading

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

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