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

California drought has damaged millions of trees

Mighty redwoods.

Redwood trees in California. @bberwyn photo.

Large swaths of forest now seen as more vulnerable to future droughts

Staff Report

California’s extended drought may take a long-term toll on the state’s forests, scientists reported last month after studying severe water loss from tree canopies since 2011.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says that up to 58 million large trees in California showed signs of being drought stressed, with persistently low rainfall, high temperatures and outbreaks of the destructive bark beetle combining to increase forest mortality risk. Continue reading

Forest Service steps up restoration efforts in 2015

Colorado aspens

Restoration work needed across 65 million acres of national forest lands.

With wildfire costs soaring, agency takes funds from other programs

Staff Report

U.S. Forest Service officials said they were able to step up the pace of restoration projects in 2015 despite facing tough budget challenges during a record wildfire season.

Despite the gains, at least 65 million National Forest System acres are still in need of restoration, agency leaders said, explaining that the rising cost of wildfire suppression has taken funding away from restoration, watershed and wildlife programs, limiting the Forest Service’s ability to do the work that would prevent fires in the first place. Continue reading

Can the Southwest’s forests survive global warming?

New study projects widespread forest mortality by 2100

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Vast swaths of spruce trees have died in southern Colorado during the past few years. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Forest ecosystems around the world are under the gun from climate change, development, insect invasions and conversion to agriculture. This stand of lodgepoles in Colorado was clear cut after pine beetles killed most of the trees.

Forest ecosystems around the world are under the gun from climate change, development, insect invasions and conversion to agriculture. This stand of lodgepoles in Colorado was clear cut after pine beetles killed most of the trees. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Unless deep greenhouse gas cuts happen soon, last month’s historic climate agreement may be too little, too late for some forests in the American Southwest, where scientists are projecting a widespread die-off of needleleaf evergreens — including pine, spruce, piñon and juniper trees — by 2100.

After combining data from field observations with climate model projections, the research team concluded that  72 percent of the region’s needleleaf evergreen forests will die by 2050, with nearly 100 percent mortality by 2100.

“No matter how we investigated the problem, we got the same result. This consensus gives us confidence in this projection of forest mortality,” said Sara Rauscher, assistant professor of geography in University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.

It’s pretty clear that the die-off is already under way. Even drought-resistant species like piñon pines were hit hard by a drought in the early 2000s. A massive bark beetle infestation wiped out millions of acres of lodgepole pines in the southern Rockies, and spruce beetles have taken a big toll on once-lush spruce forests in southern Colorado. Continue reading

Forests: Study says spruce beetle not a big factor in recent southwest Colorado wildfires

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A major spruce beetle outbreak has been spreading across forests of southwest Colorado, but that hasn’t been a big factor in recent wildfires in the region, according to CU-Boulder research.

Climate, topography likely more significant, researchers say

Staff Report

Colorado researchers have added another chapter to the long-running debate over beetle-kill and wildfires, finding that spruce beetle infestations haven’t increased the severity of wildfires in southwestern Colorado.

Spruce bark beetles have affected roughly half a million acres of Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir forests across the state in recent years, with infestations documented across an additional 87,000 acres in 2014. Continue reading

Environment: More maple tree woes

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What’s up with maple trees?

Study documents widespread growth slowdown

Staff Report

An extensive tree-ring study in the Northeast suggests a widespread and steady decline in the health of sugar maples, one of most economically and ecologically important trees in the eastern United States and Canada.

The decline started showing up in the 1970s a decline in the growth rate of of sugar maple trees, but the reasons are still unclear, according to the State University of New York researchers who recently published their findings in the open-access journal “Ecosphere.” 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

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