Forests and CO2 — It’s complicated!

One of the few lodgepole seedlings to survive the industrial clearcutting on the north shore of the Frisco Peninsula.

Climate models may be overestimating the carbon-capturing capacity of forests. @bberwyn photo.

Loss of nitrogen a key factor in forest equation

Staff Report

Forests may grow faster as atmospheric CO2 increases, but that doesn’t mean they’ll absorb more of the heat-trapping gas. Instead, a shortage of nitrogen means plants won’t be able to fix as much carbon as projected by some climate models.

“Forests take up carbon from the atmosphere, but in order for the plants to fix the carbon, it requires a certain amount of nitrogen,” said researchers Prasanth  who took a close look at the chemistry of secondary forests that are regrowing after deforestation, wood harvest and fires.

“If that ratio of carbon to nitrogen isn’t right, even if you add many times more carbon than it gets currently, the forests cannot absorb the extra carbon,” Meiyappan said. Continue reading

Scientists slam Congress for once again considering misguided forest management bills

The magenta-flowered fireweed, which springs up after a burn, dominates a landscape once covered in black spruce in Alaskas Yukon Flats. Credit: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The magenta-flowered fireweed, which springs up after a burn, dominates a landscape once covered in black spruce in Alaskas Yukon Flats. Credit: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

‘Fire is not destroying our forests, rather, it is restoring these ecosystems …’

Staff Report

A group of scientists has weighed in on the political tug-of-war over forest policies by writing a letter to the U.S. Senate and President Obama, warning that two bills currently on the table would be destructive to forest ecosystems and wildlife

At issue are House Resolution 2647 and Senate Bill 1691, both proposed in response to ongoing concerns about forest fires. But the measures won’t improve forest health or reduce fire risks, the scientists said. Instead, the laws are aimed at short-cutting environmental studies, reducing public involvement and preventing courts from enforcing environmental laws.

The role of the timber industry in federal forest management would also unfairly increase under the deceptive guise of promoting decision-making by “collaborative” groups, the scientists wrote.

Continue reading

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’


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

“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


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


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