Study shows how global warming could favor invasive shrubs over native forest trees

Timing is everything …

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How will forests respond to global warming? bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Global warming is likely to play out in some unexpected ways, but pattern that’s emerging suggests that changed conditions will favor invasive plants over long-time native species.

New research from the Technische Universität München confirms that trend, suggesting that invasive herbs and shrubs could take advantage of warmer winters in perhaps unexpected ways.

“Contrary to previous assumptions, the increasing length of the day in spring plays no big role in the timing of budding. An ample ‘cold sleep’ is what plants need in order to wake up on time in the spring,” said lead author Julia Laube, describing the study, which investigated 36 tree and shrub species. Continue reading

Forests: Does salvage logging in beetle-killed forests make economic sense for the Forest Service?

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Dead lodgepoles have became a common sight in Colorado during the past few years, and a new study confirms that the Forest Service loses money on many salvage logging projects.

Study shows that strong timber markets make all the difference

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A new Forest Service study confirms the conventional wisdom that, under current market conditions, salvage of beetle-killed timber in Colorado is not good for the agency’s bottom line.

The researchers evaluated potential potential revenues from harvesting standing timber killed by mountain pine beetle across the western United States. Positive net revenues are possible in regions with strong timber markets, including along the West Coast and in the northern Rockies.

The central Rocky Mountain states of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming — which have the largest volume of standing dead timber — would not generate positive net revenues by salvaging beetle-killed timber, the study concluded. In Colorado, there have been efforts to create more markets for beetle-killed wood, but there doesn’t yet seem to be a critical mass of demand.

The study did not examine other factors that might influence land management decisions, such as fire risk reduction, improvement in stand conditions, or jobs. Continue reading

Study: Drought the prime driver of spruce beetle outbreak

Long-term climate shifts linked with historic spruce beetle episodes in Colorado

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A Colorado spruce forest near Shrine Pass, Colorado.

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Spruce beetles are spreading rapidly and killing trees in the southern Rockies.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The current spruce beetle outbreak in Colorado’s high country has the potential to grow larger in scope than the recent mountain pine beetle epidemic that killed mature lodgepole pines across millions of acres.

And the trigger of for the spruce beetles is drought that’s linked with long-term changes in sea-surface temperatures in the Northern Atlantic Ocean, a trend that is expected to continue for decades, according to a new study by scientists with the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The new study is important because it shows that drought is a better predictor of spruce beetle outbreaks in northern Colorado than temperature alone, said Sarah Hart, a CU-Boulder doctoral student in geography. Continue reading

Colorado: Wildfire task force report suggests crackdown on red zone development

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The cost of property damage caused by wildfires has spiked in recent years.

More disastrous fires ahead with sustained effort to address threat

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Increased development in fire-prone forest lands in Colorado “ensures that the pattern of damaging wildfire will continue,” according to a state task force report released last week.

The report was delivered to Gov. John Hickenlooper and legislative after two consecutive years of deadly and destructive fires along the Front Range.

The report calls for rating the wildfire risks on individual properties, and facilitating mitigation and prevention measures at the local level. Property owners in the red zone should be primarily responsible for adressing wildfire dangers, to the point of paying special fees to help fund mitigation efforts. Continue reading

Colorado: Summit County forests make big comeback after pine beetle epidemic

Forest Service replanting key areas, monitoring regeneration

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Just a few years after logging projects, forests are making a comeback in areas around Pine Cove campground, near Frisco, Colorado.

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A temporary logging road along the Frisco Peninsula.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — With mountain pine beetle populations at their lowest level in 30 years, it’s safe to say that the forest health crisis actually turned out to be a much-needed catharsis for Summit County’s overgrown lodgepole pine forests.

U.S. Forest Service researchers are finding that most of the area hit by the bugs are showing encouraging signs of regrowth. Logged areas are primarily seeing dense lodgepole regeneration, along with some aspens. Non-logged areas are also growing back, and some early data suggests that subalpine fir may replace lodepole pines as the dominant species.

Along with continued logging operations in red zone areas, the U.S. Forest Service has been busy replanting some key areas, notably around campgrounds. Altogether, the agency has planted about a quarter of a million seedlings across the White River National Forest in the last three to four years, according to silviculturist Jan Burke, who has tracked the arc of the beetle infestation. Just this past summer, the Forest Service, with help from volunteer partners, planted about 90,000 trees. Continue reading

New insect pest hits Colorado’s beleaguered forests

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Pine needle scale directly affects the needles of conifers. Photo courtesy Oregon State University.

Outbreak on pine needle scale  reported in Grand County, ground zero for the pine beetle infestation

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado forest health experts say there’s a new pest on the loose in one of the areas hardest hit by mountain pine beetles.

Pine needle scale is affecting patches of trees in Grand County, where residents have reported ailing lodgepole pines in recent months.

The tiny bug latches on to pine needles and sucks them dry. They can affect any age tree and generally don’t cause trees to die, although a heavy infestation can lead to mortality, according to Ryan McNertney, assistant district forester for the Colorado State Forest Service Granby District. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Traditional forestry practices shown to affect fungal diversity in Spanish beech groves

Clearing debris interrupts vital ecological cycles

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Fungi grow on a fallen tree branch in a Colorado spruce forest. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Traditional forestry practices — primarily the clearing of dead wood — are reducing fungal diversity, thereby potentially affecting as-yet unknown ecological cycles that could be critical to long-term forest sustainability.

Fungi, along with bacteria, are crucial to converting dead wood back into basic organic matter that can be recycled by forests. Researchers with the University of the Basque Country recently set out to quantify the impacts of debris-clearing by sampling fungal communities in 16 test plots in beech forests. The results of the study have been published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management.

The main conclusion of the study is that forestry and classical forest management are harming the community of saproxylic fungi. What is more, the researchers have discovered that in the forests being exploited various fungi species are disappearing and in some cases even whole families are affected. Continue reading

Op-ed: Teamwork needed to protect forests, watersheds

Active forest management needed to protect water supplies

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A beetle-kill forest clear cut near Dillon Reservoir, Summit County, Colorado.

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Colorado State Forester Mike Lester.

By Mike Lester

A Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior to reduce the risk and impacts of catastrophic Western wildfires was signed last week in Fort Collins. The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership was good news for anyone who cares about the health of our forests, pays a water bill or worries about wildfires.

The Colorado State Forest Service is proud to be part of a similar local partnership that is being viewed as the first of six WWEP pilot programs in the West to improve forest and watershed health, and help mitigate wildfire risk. The Colorado-Big Thompson Headwaters Partnership focuses on the headwaters of the Colorado and Big Thompson rivers in Northern Colorado. Partners include the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the USDA Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation. Continue reading

Excess Air Force planes eyed for firefighting duty

Sen. Mark Udall pressing Defense Department to transfer unneeded cargo planes to U.S. Forest Service as soon as possible

A  C-27J in flight. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

A C-27J in flight. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — U.S. Forest Service efforts to modernize its firefighting air tanker fleet aren’t moving fast enough for Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado democrat who has been pushing for more wildfire resources on all fronts.

This week, Udall pressed the U.S. Defense Department to quickly transfer excess military aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service. In a bipartisan letter, spearheaded with Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), Udall said the Pentagon isn’t using its authority to transfer its excess aircraft at no cost to taxpayers.

According to the letter, the Forest Service was unable to meet about half of the requests for firefighting air support in 2012. The Air Force is nearing completion of a divestiture plan for the C-27J Spartan aircraft, and Udall wants to see at least some of those planes put to work fighting fires. Read the letter here. Continue reading

Could drones help battle wildfires?

Test sites proposed to learn how drones could improve wildfire monitoring, mitigation, and containment

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Images taken from space can provide a lot of information about wildfires, but low-level flights by unmanned aircraft could help make firefighting safer and more efficient, some experts believe. This image of the West Fork Fire Complex in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado was taken June 26 from the International Space Station. Visit this NASA Earth Observatory page for more information about the image.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A pair of U.S. Senators wants to get a leg up on wildfires by spurring the use of unmanned surveillance aircraft to make firefighting efforts more efficient.

“Extreme wildfires have become an all too common occurrence in Colorado, leaving families without homes and hundreds of thousands of charred acreage in their paths,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO). “We need to employ every tool available to help firefighters in their battles. This bipartisan amendment will help us develop UAS technology and teach us more about how they can strengthen our fights against wildfires more quickly and safely.”

Bennet (D-CO) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) this week introduced an amendment to create two additional test sites for unmanned aerial systems, with a focus on how they could be used for firefighting. Continue reading

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