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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: Forests can’t win for losing

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Drought stress can lead to more tree mortality in the aftermath of forest fires. Photo courtesy Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, Summit County, Colorado.

Yet another climate feedback

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Even if trees aren’t directly killed by drought, the ongoing stress of dry conditions can lead to more tree mortality in the aftermath of forest fires and prescribed burns.

The findings come from a new study that took a close look at varied forest types around the west, including in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.

Most of the data was compiled in areas where agencies conducted prescribed fires between 1984 and 2005. The researchers looked at more than 7,000 individual conifers. Continue reading

Global warming spurs changes in AK wildfire regime

More frequent and intense fires documented in Alaska’s interior region, where conifer forests are giving way to deciduous trees

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.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Global warming is making some of Alaska’s interior forests more flammable, with wildfire activity higher than at any time in the past 10,0000 years, according to new research funded by the National Science Foundation.

The study documented a dramatic increase in both the frequency and severity of fires in recent decades in a 2,000-square-kilometer zone in the Yukon Flats of interior Alaska — already one of the most flammable high-latitude regions of the world.

The fires are converting the conifer-rich boreal forests of Alaska into deciduous woodlands, the study found. Whether the shift to deciduous forests — which traditionally have been thought to be more fire-resistant — will overcome the fire-inducing effects of a warming climate remains to be seen. Continue reading

Climate: NASA to probe forest and forest fire emissions

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New climate research could help fine-tune global warming models. Photo courtesy NASA.

Satellites and planes to scour atmosphere from top to bottom

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Since clouds and pollution high in the atmosphere are still somewhat of a global warming wild card, scientists have been trying to refine their understanding of how those factors affect the climate.

Better data could help refine climate models used to project how much temperatures will increase the next few decades, and a new NASA research project starting in early August could deliver some of that information.

Satellite sensors will probe from above, while planes with instruments on board will fly near the edge of space and at lower elevations simultaneously to provide a multi-dimensional look at how air pollution and natural emissions, which are pushed high into the atmosphere by large storms, affect atmospheric composition and climate. Continue reading

U.S. Forest Service chief addresses wildfire challenges

A wildfire burns near powerlines in Keystone Gulch in June 2011. Photo courtesy Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue.

A wildfire burns near powerlines in Keystone Gulch in June 2011. Photo courtesy Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue.

Global warming cited as key factor in increased firefighting costs

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Addressing the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this week, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said his agency faces serious firefighting challenges, including tight budgets and a changing climate that is resulting in larger and more frequent fires.

Tidwell’s statement:

“On average, wildfires burn twice as many acres each year as compared to 40 years ago. Last year, the fires were massive in size, coinciding with increased temperatures and early snow melt in the West,” Tidwell said. “The largest issue we now face is how to adapt our management to anticipate climate change impacts and to mitigate their potential effects.” Continue reading

Wildfires: Budget woes to affect fuels treatments, post-fire rehab

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A wildfire burns in Keystone Gulch, near the base of Keystone Ski Area, in June, 2011.

Fewer firefighers, less wildfire fuels treatments and less post-fire rehab

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The federal budget crunch means firefighters will have to do more with less this summer, federal officials said this week. Because of the sequester, the Forest Service will not fill 500 firefighting positions and will make do with 50 less engines on the ground.

“We are facing another dangerous wildfire season. We are prepared; we’re not as funded as we might be about 5 years from now, so teamwork is really critical to what we have to do,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, speaking Monday at a briefing at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise Idaho.

In particular, parts of the West are facing another challenging fire season, with greatest potential threats in the Pacific Coast states and into the interior northwest, including Idaho and southwest Montana, according to the center’s predictive services team. Continue reading

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