Aerial forest surveys track continued spread of spruce beetles across Colorado forests

State, federal scientists track forest health

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Aerial survey results show how spruce beetles are taking a toll across Colorado’s forests, with new areas of infestation in the Sange de Cristo, the West Elks and even the northern mountains.

Spruce beetle populations are surging in the southern Rocky Mountains. bberwyn photo.

Spruce beetles are still spreading in the southern Rocky Mountains. @bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

The latest results from aerial surveys of Colorado forests shows that spruce beetles are doing the most damage, with infestations detected on 409,000 acres across the state, expanding onto 182,000 acres of previously unaffected forests. Since 1996, spruce beetle outbreaks have caused varying degrees of tree mortality on more than 1.5 million acres in Colorado.

The mapping shows spruce beetles spreading outward from the San Juans to the West Elk Mountains, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and into the northern part of the state around Rocky Mountain National Park. See the full report here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/USFSR2ForestHealth.

State forest experts said it was the fourth year in a row that spruce beetle outbreaks caused widespread tree mortality. As populations of spruce beetles expand, they are starting to affect higher-elevation stands of Engelmann spruce. The report says blowdown events, combined with long-term drought stress, warmer temperatures and extensive amounts of older, dense spruce, have all contributed to the ongoing spruce beetle outbreak. Continue reading

Study: Most ocean fish still tainted by toxic chemicals, but levels are gradually decreasing

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Levels of pollutants in seafood vary widely in different regions. @bberwyn photo.

More research needed to determine risk to consumers

Staff Report

Fish in all the world’s oceans are still tainted by a stew of potentially toxic chemicals, but concentrations of the pollutants have decreased in the past 30 years, according to a new study by researchers with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

The scientists said their findings included both good and bad news. On the up side, the findings suggest that the global community responded to the calls-to-action, such as in the Stockholm Convention, to limit the release of potentially harmful chemicals into the environment. Continue reading

Environment: Mercury deposition increasing in West and Midwest

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Mercury emissions from power plants are a global issue.

Asia’s power plants affect U.S. environment

Staff Report

Mercury levels in precipitation are increasing in the central U.S. but steadily dropping along the East Coast, scientists reported in a new study.

The findings suggest that mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants in Asia are on the rise, while they are decreasing in North America, according to Peter Weiss-Penzias, an environmental toxicologist at UC Santa Cruz who was the lead author of the study.

Mercury is a toxic element released into the environment through a variety of human activities, including the burning of coal, as well as by natural processes. Rainfall washes mercury out of the atmosphere and into soils and surface waters. Bacteria convert elemental mercury into a more toxic form, methyl mercury, which becomes increasingly concentrated in organisms higher up the food chain. Mercury concentrations in some predatory fish are high enough to raise health concerns. Continue reading

Distant wildfire smoke may raise ozone levels

Summer 2012 wildfires Colorado

Wildfire smoke may interact with other pollutants to raise ozone levels. @bobberwyn photo.

Across the U.S., ozone levels were higher on smoky days than on smoke-free days

Staff Report

Wildfire smoke on its own can trigger health warnings for direct exposure, and new research from Colorado State University suggests that there may be a more widespread impact after they linked smoke with elevated levels of ozone.

In globally warming world, where the number and size of wildfires keeps growing, the findings have significant implications for public health. Continue reading

Feds eye new methane rules for public lands

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Feds aim to reduce methane emissions from natural gas production on public lands.

Common sense measures to help meet climate targets

Staff Report

Proposed federal rules could help slow the release of potent heat-trapping methane emissions from gas production on public and Native American lands.

Between 2009 and 2014, enough natural gas was lost through venting, flaring and leaks to power more than five million homes for a year. States, Tribes and federal taxpayers also lose royalty revenues when natural gas is wasted. According to a 2010 Government Accountability Office report, taxpayers lose up to $23 million annually in royalty revenue. Continue reading

Colorado regulators eye new fracking rules

Oil and gas drilling near schools and homes in Firestone, Colorado. Photo courtesy Shane Davis, Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Chapter.

Oil and gas drilling near schools and homes in Firestone, Colorado. Photo courtesy Shane Davis, Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Chapter.

State commission will meet Jan. 25 to take action on proposed regulations

Staff Report

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is set to take some modest steps to strengthen its oversight of oil and gas development in Colorado by considering new rules that would require more cooperation between fracking operators and local communities.

The commission will meet Jan. 25 to consider rules that would ensure that fossil fuel companies provide earlier notice to local governments, as well as an opportunity for local officials to work with operators on the location of large oil and gas facilities adjacent to communities. Continue reading

Climate: Ocean heat buildup is accelerating

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A new study tracks the accelerating heat buildup in the world’s oceans.

New study finds deep-down warming

Staff Report

Heat trapped by greenhouse gases is building up in the oceans at an increasing rate, according to researchers who are trying to get a more detailed understanding of the oceans’ role in the global climate cycle.

After studying data from a variety of sources, the researchers with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory andthe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that half of the global ocean heat content increase since 1865 has occurred over the past two decades. Continue reading

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