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Forest Service details cost of ‘fire borrowing’

A NASA satellite image shows smoke plumes from the massive wildfires in Alberta.

A NASA satellite image shows smoke plumes from the massive wildfires in Alberta.

Numerous Colorado projects delayed as feds juggle budgets in era of monster wildfires

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — U.S. Forest Service officials said they’ve had to defer reviews of ski area projects, delay trail improvements and forest restoration work because of the high cost of fighting wildfires. This year, the agency projects a $470 million gap that ripples through the entire Forest Service budget.

More than a dozen important projects in Colorado were on the hit list, according to a  new report released this week by the Department of Agriculture. Some of the projects were canceled altogether because their funding has been diverted to fighting wildfires.   Continue reading

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Logging no panacea for pine beetle outbreaks

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Can we log our way to forest health?

Science sometimes missing from forest management policies

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — While politicians and policy makers continue to conflate a number of complex forest health and wildfire issues, a new study suggests there’s little evidence supporting the idea that logging helps to control or contain the spread of tree-killing pine beetles.

Nobody disputes the need to clear trees, brush and other fuels from around homes in fire-prone forest areas, but some lawmakers who should know better have been pushing for more logging under the guise of restoring forest health and as an antidote to insect infestations.

The idea that speedy approval of logging projects could help restore forest health was also used as a basis for short-cutting environmental reviews for logging projects, possibly resulting in negative long-term environmental impacts in forests.

But forest researchers in California and Montana said there isn’t much monitoring to assess the effectiveness of logging, and that failures often aren’t reported, probably because they don’t fit the popular narrative. Continue reading

Colorado: As pine beetle epidemic passes, politicians still pushing for more logging

Budget woes still hindering forest restoration efforts

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Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs (standing) speaks with Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, at a recent meeting in Frisco, Colorado. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The Colorado high country may be buried in snow right now, but lawmakers and fire experts are already brainstorming about the upcoming wildfire season.

As part of that process, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) met with local officials in Summit County recently to get feedback on recent successes and remaining challenges in forest management and wildfire mitigation policies and actions.

“It’s not a question of if we’re going to have more megafires, but when,” Udall said, without ever mentioning global warming as a key factor in the wildfire equation. Continue reading

Forests: New CU-Boulder study shows nuances in tree-killing pine beetle epidemic

Lodgepole pines killed by beetles stand silhoutted against the evening sky in Summit County, Colorado.

Lodgepole pines killed by beetles stand silhoutted against the evening sky in Summit County, Colorado.

Smooth-barked trees better able to repel insects

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Lodgepole and ponderosa pines with smoother bark may be better at repelling tree-killing bugs, according to Boulder-based researchers with the University of Colorado.

The new findings may help forest managers as they plan logging projects, especially in areas where there is a need to protect high-value trees — in developed recreation areas or on private property.

The study was published online in the journal Functional Ecology. While the current pine beetle epidemic has slowed dramatically in many areas, it wiped out millions of trees across 3.4 million acres since 1996. Continue reading

In the absence of fire, intensive mechanical treatments needed to keep ponderosa pine forests healthy

Before: Plenty of healthy grasses, forbs and shrubs, along with young lodgepole pines two to three feet tall.

Plenty of healthy grasses, forbs and shrubs, along with young lodgepole pines two to three feet tall in this unlogged patch of beetle-killed pines.

Shrub removal also key to moderating fire behavior

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Forest Service scientists say they’ve quantified the relationship between the density of ponderosa pine stands and disease.

The study shows that — no surprise — increased density, mainly due to the agency’s long-term fire suppression policies, makes the trees more susceptible to bark beetles and diseases. Competition for soil moisture, nutrients, and sunlight  in dense stands weakens trees and therefore also contributes to fuel buildup. Continue reading

Canadian researchers seek effective pine beetle bait

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Beetle-killed lodgepole pines in Summit County, Colorado.

Tracking pheromones may help resource managers slow the spread of infestation

By Summit Voice

*Read extensive coverage of mountain pine beetle and fores health at this Summit Voice link

FRISCO — While the mountain pine beetle epidemic has waned in most Colorado forests, the tiny insects are still killing huge swaths of trees in Canada, where researchers say they may be close finding an effective bait.

The University of Alberta scientists  say their results may enable forest managers to get ahead of the destructive spread of mountain pine beetle, which is now killing not only lodgepole pine forests, but jack pine. Continue reading

Scientists caution against too much post-fire logging

Burned areas a critical piece of overall forest health

Post-fire landscapes are important in the big picture of long-term forest health. bberwyn photo.

Post-fire landscapes are important in the big picture of forest health. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With political momentum growing in support of more logging, a group of leading scientists is trying to counterbalance the forest crisis mythology that has developed in the past few years. That mythology has no basis in science and is promulgated to support a political agenda.

In an open letter to the U.S. Congress, the scientists asked Congress show restraint in speeding up logging in the wake of this year’s wildfires, most notably the Rim fire in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park.

It’s important to recognize that the scientists are not saying that there should neve be any logging, anywhere. Rather, the decisions need to be made in a measured way, considering all the environmental implications and the role that burned areas have in the bigger picture of long-term forest health. 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

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

Sunday magazine: Mushroom mania in Colorado

From tasty meals to myco-remediation …

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One of the more unusual fungi found in Colorado forests. bberwyn photo.

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Chanterelles.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Fungi fanatics are calling it one of the best seasons in recent memory, as steady summer rains spurred a bumper crop of stinky squid, shaggy ink cap and purple slime mushrooms, not to mention delectables like porcini and chanterelles.

This past weekend, a handful of Colorado towns held festivals to celebrate mushrooms in all their diverse glory — if we’re all connected intellectually via the electronic web, then we’re probably also connected biologically, and fungi are one of the key threads that holds the web of life together.

In Telluride, amidst the good-natured fun of mushroom-themed parades and cook-fests, scientists discussed the latest research on myco-remediation. There’s promise that known — along with as-yet unstudied species — that fungi could help with a wide range of environmental and human health issues.

The mushroom festival maintained a lively social media feed on Twitter, sharing images like this:

In some situations, fungi could help clean up lead contamination, and Forest Service scientists are trying to improve restoration of dwindling whitebark pine forests with fungal applications.

In Scandinavia, forest researchers have discovered that fungi play a greater role in the carbon cycle than previously understood, and there are also concerns that a warmer and wetter future world could spur the growth of forest-killing fungi. Continue reading

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