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

Copper Mountain set to build new Tucker Mountain lift

Copper wants to build the Tucker Mountain lift this summer.

Copper wants to build the Tucker Mountain lift this summer.

Forest Service taking comments on ski area proposals at Copper, Breckenridge

Staff Report

FRISCO — At long last, Copper Mountain Resort is set to move ahead with installation of a new lift on the north side of Tucker Mountain. The lift was originally approved in 2006, but according to the January 5 scoping notice from the U.S. Forest Service, the exact path of the lift has changed slightly.

The agency will take comments on the proposal through Jan. 30 via email at wrnf_scoping_comments@fs.fed.us. Continue reading

Colorado: Feds eye fee increase for Vail Pass winter use

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Snowmobiling at Vail Pass.

Season pass would increase to $100

Staff Report

FRISCO — The U.S. Forest Service wants to increase winter day use recreation fees at Vail Pass by a whopping 30 percent, from $6 to $9, while the price of a season pass would rise from $40 to $100.

The current fees have been in place for more than 10 years and the agency says it’s facing increased management costs in the heavily used recreation area. Continue reading

Skiing: Forest Service taking input on proposed Snowmass Ski Area improvements

Glading, lift upgrades eyed in draft environmental study

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Snowmass to upgrade the High Alpine lift, add new snowmaking and expand gladed terrain.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The U.S. Forest Service is looking for public input on a slate of proposed improvements at Snowmass Ski Area, including replacement/realignment of the High Alpine Chairlift, additional snowmaking coverage, and trail and glade projects. 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

White River National Forest updates oil and gas plan

74,000 acres in roadless areas still open to fossil fuel development with a no surface occupation stipulation

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Most oil and gas development on the White River National Forest is limited to the far western zones in areas where drilling is already common.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The White River National Forest wants to open up nearly 200,000 acres for oil and gas drilling leases, including 74,000 acres in designated roadless areas where there would be restrictions on surface activities.

The long-awaited update to the forest’s oil and gas leasing map were released this week by the agency in a final environmental impact study and a draft record of decision, subject to a 60-day objection period. The final EIS is online here.

WRNF supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said he chose a “conservation-minded” option that prioritizes recreational and natural resources values over energy development across most of the forest. Most of the lands open for leasing follow the pattern of recent energy development in areas with high potential for fossil fuel development.

“Over one million acres of the White River National Forest are not geologically conducive for natural gas production, and another 800,000 acres are legally withdrawn. In addition, I have decided to close 213,000 acres of the White River National Forest to leasing in order to protect and maintain the natural character of these areas and protect important wildlife habitat,” Fitzwilliams said. Continue reading

Climate: Logging leads to long-term release of carbon from soils in Northeastern hardwood forests

Findings challenge carbon-balance assumptions of woody biomass energy boosters

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A forest health logging site on Swan Mountain near Dillon, Colorado. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Logging forests may have a more significant impact on carbon storage in soils than previously believed, Dartmouth College researchers found after taking a close look at at how timber harvesting affects mineral soil carbon over 100 years.

The study found that, while logging  doesn’t immediately release carbon stored in a forest’s mineral soils into the atmosphere, it triggers a gradual release that may contribute to climate change over decades. Continue reading

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