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Study: Pine beetle outbreaks not a big factor in the ecological severity of Western wildfires

Dead and dying lodgepole pines in Frisco, Colorado.

Dead and dying lodgepole pines in Frisco, Colorado.

Study shows no clear link between beetle-kill and ecological severity of western wildfires

Staff Report

FRISCO — For all their frenzied tree-killing during the past 10 years, mountain pine beetles haven’t been a big factor in the ecological severity of wildfires in the West, a team of university scientists said this week.

Weather and topography are the main factors in determining how much damage a wildfire does to forest ecosystems, according to the researchers with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides some of the first rigorous field data to test whether fires that burn in areas impacted by mountain pine beetles are more ecologically severe than in those not attacked by the native bug. The study didn’t look at fire behavior, including how fast they spread or how dangerous they are to fight. Continue reading

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New study challenges the conventional wisdom on severity of Front Range wildfires in Colorado

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A new study examines the history of wildfires along the Colorado Front Range.

Historic wildfires in the pre-suppression era burned just as intensely, scientists say

Staff Report

FRISCO — New research challenges the conventional wisdom that wildfires along the Colorado Front Range have become more severe.

A detailed assessment of fire history across more 1 million acres of forest suggests that only 16 percent of the area showed a shift from historically low-severity fires to severe, potential crown fires that can jump from treetop to treetop.

Even in the days before fire suppression, fires along the Front Range were often destructive, killing many mature trees in the burn areas, the study concluded. Continue reading

Global warming triggers surge in tree growth

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Global warming speeds tree growth. bberwyn photo.

Some species growing up 70 percent faster than 50 years ago

Staff Report

FRISCO — Some trees are growing up to 70 percent faster than just a half century ago, as global warming supercharges their metabolism, German researchers report in a new study published in Nature Communications.

Three decades ago, forest dieback was a hot topic, with the very survival of large forest ecosystems seemingly in doubt. But instead of a collapse, the latest studies indicate that forests have actually been growing at a faster rate. The new data from the Technische Universität München comes from forest plots that have been closely monitored since 1870. The forested areas are also representative of the typical climate and environmental conditions found in Central Europe. Continue reading

Environment: New mapping project traces global forest degradation

Spruce beetle populations are surging in the southern Rocky Mountains.

Spruce beetle populations are surging in the southern Rocky Mountains.

Conservation advocates say more protection needed to protect critical ecosystem services

Staff Report

FRISCO — Forest degradation continues unchecked in many parts of the world and especially in the northern hemisphere boreal forest belt in Canada, Russia and Alaska, conservation advocates said this week, unveiling new maps showing forest impacts across more than 100 million hectares — an are three times the size of Germany.

Just since 2000, about 8 percent of the world’s remaining intact forest landscapes have been subject to some type of degradation from human activities, including logging and energy development.

The Greenpeace GIS Laboratory, the University of Maryland and Transparent World, in collaboration with the World Resources Institute and WWF-Russia, used satellite technology to determine the location and extent of the world’s last remaining large undisturbed forests, important harbors for biodiversity that are still unaffected by logging and infrastructure such as roads, mining and oil or gas development. Continue reading

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

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

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