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Colorado: Front Range forest thinning may be misguided

A classic ponderosa pine forest landscape. PHOTO COURTESY USFS.

New study shows historic fire conditions much more variable than previously thought

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Many recent forest management efforts along Colorado’s Front Range ponderosa pine belt have been aimed at creating widely spaced stands of trees, based on the conventional wisdom that those forests were historically shaped by low-intensity ground fires.

But severe, high-intensity fires were probably much more common in the region than previously believed, said Mark Williams, one of the University of Wyoming researchers who found that at least 80 percent of the ponderosa pine forests in the region were subject to moderate-to-intense fires that destroyed stands and created a patchwork structure, leaving some dense stands and some open forests.

The study, conducted by William Baker and Mark Williams, used extensive land survey data as well as physical evidence of fires, and covered about 4.1 million acres on the Mogollon Plateau and Black Mesa in northern Arizona, in the Blue Mountains in northeastern Oregon, and in the Colorado Front Range. Continue reading

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Intensive thinning needed to restore some western forests

A new study suggests intensive thinning is needed to protect dry western forests from destructive crown fires.

Potential fuel-treatment benefits quantified by Forest Service resarch team

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — New research by the U.S. Forest Service appears to confirm that massive thinning efforts are needed to restore some measure of fire resistance to western ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forests where decades of fire suppression upset the ecological balance.

The study of fuel treatment effectiveness concluded that intense thinning treatments leaving between 50 and 100 trees per acre are the most effective in reducing the probability of crown fires in the dry forests of the western United States, including areas in Arizona and New Mexico that experienced their largest fires in modern history.

In Colorado, the results of the study are valid for some Front Range forests, but no so much for the higher-elevation lodgepole pine and spruce and fir forests which have evolved with a different fire regime.

The results of the study were published in a recent issue of the Canadian Journal of Forest Research. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said it provides a scientific basis for establishing quantitative guidelines for reducing stand densities and surface fuels. The total number of optimal trees per acre on any given forest will depend on species, terrain and other factors.

“This study proves once again that an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Thinning dense forests reduces the impacts of the catastrophic wildfires we’ve already seen this year and expect to see more and more of in the future. This work helps protect communities, provides jobs and promotes overall better forest health.” Continue reading

Study: Forest patch treatments help protect older trees

A three-year study in Washington shows that even small areas of well-treated forest can reduce the intensity of fires and the damage to older trees.

Study suggests thinning, combined with fuels removals, could help make forests more resilient to climate change

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Even small fuel treatments of only a few acres can help reduce wildfire severity and protect older trees desirable for timber, wildlife, and carbon-storage values, according to the results of a three-year study recently completed in Washington. Such treatments could also help make forests more resilient in the face of climate change, a team of university and Forest Service researchers concluded.

“If dense forests are thinned and the surface fuels are removed, then ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir trees have a better chance of surviving an intense wildfire,” said Susan Prichard, a University of Washington research scientist and senior author of the study conducted after the 175,000 acre Tripod Fire. Continue reading

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