Science behind the scenery at Rocky Mountain NP

Aspen ecology, boreal toad presentation coming up

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Rocky Mountain National Park from Trail Ridge Road. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — National Parks aren’t just places to spend a great vacation. Because they’re relatively untouched by development, they also serve as living laboratories where scientists can study plants and animals in an undisturbed setting.

Researchers who have specialized in understanding Rocky Mountain ecosystems will be sharing their expertise as part of Rocky Mountain National Park’s centennial Science Behind The Scenery Programs in the next few weeks every Thursday evening (7:30 p.m.) at the Beaver Meadows visitor center. The talks are free and open to the public. Continue reading

Global warming to speed up forest die-offs

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Taller trees, like this California redwood, are most susceptible to global warming impacts, a new study says. @bberwyn photo.

‘The warming climate is creating a threat to global forests unlike any in recorded history’

Staff Report

*More Summit Voice stories on forests and climate change here

FRISCO — Forest researchers have been seeing the warning signs for decades — global warming is speeding up tree deaths around the world.

The pace of those changes is likely to speed up, according to scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“The warming climate is creating a threat to global forests unlike any in recorded history,” said Nathan McDowell, of Los Alamos’ Earth and Environmental Sciences Division. “Forests store the majority of terrestrial carbon and their loss may have significant and sustained impacts on the global carbon cycle.” Continue reading

How do changing forests affect bees?

Changes in southeastern forests may be contributing to the decline of bee populations, @bberwyn photo.

Changes in southeastern forests may be contributing to the decline of bee populations, @bberwyn photo.

Forest Service study helps unravel pollinator decline mystery Staff Report FRISCO — U.S. Forest Service scientists say they’ve solved another part of the biological puzzle surrounding the alarming decline of bee populations. Changes in forest structure from open to closed canopies are likely contributing to the decline, especially of native bees, at least in some regions. “Bees prefer open forests,” said Jim Hanula, a research entomologist at the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station. “We found that total tree basal area was the best predictor for how many bees would be present.” Continue reading

Massive Colorado logging project threatens lynx

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Proposed logging on thousands of acres of national forest lands near Leadville, Colorado could threaten important denning and feeding areas used by threatened lynx.

Conservation advocates go to court to block Tennessee Pas project

Staff Report

FRISCO — The threat of widespread logging in an area where lynx are slowly reestablishing a Colorado presence has spurred a new lawsuit by forest conservation advocates.

The recently approved 10-year project is in the Tennessee Pass area, mostly on lands managed by the Leadville Ranger District of the San Isabel National Forest.

The Forest Service green light potentially permits logging across more 12,000 acres, including 2,370 acres of clear cutting and 6,765 acres of commercial thinning and construction of 20 miles of temporary roads.

The scenery, historic status and wildlife of the Tennessee Pass area are all at risk, said Kevin Mueller, WildEarth Guardians Utah-Southern Rockies Conservation Manager.

“If this forest service logging proposal is approved, a patchwork of clear cuts could be visible on all sides of the Turquoise Lake Basin,” Mueller said. “This litigation centers on USFS refusal to protect forested slopes known to represent critical den habitat for threatened lynx,” said attorney John Mellgren of the Western Environmental Law Center. “Our goal is ecologically resilient forests that support healthy wildlife and lynx populations. Clear-cutting would further undermine lynx and other vulnerable species,” Mellgren said. Continue reading

Warming temps not the only factor in beetle outbreaks

Study shows regional variations in forest health equation

Annual aerial survey enable resource managers to map the spread of tree-killing bugs.

Annual aerial survey enable resource managers to map the spread of tree-killing bugs.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Warming winters across the western U.S. have had a nuanced effect on the severity of mountain pine beetle outbreaks, researchers said last week.

The absence of lengthy bug-killing cold snaps in some areas has helped fuel the growth of insect populations,, but milder winters can’t be blamed for the full extent of recent outbreaks in the region, according to a study by Dartmouth College and U.S. Forest Service. Continue reading

One more time: Beetle-killed forests are NOT more likely to burn, according to new CU-Boulder study

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Beetle-killed lodgepole pines in Colorado. bberwyn photo.

New CU-Boulder study has implications for forest managers and Red Zone communities

Staff Report

*More Summit Voice stories on beetle-kill and forests here.

FRISCO — Communities and resource managers looking to address the threat of wildfires should focus less on tree-killing beetles and more on the underlying forces driving the trend toward larger fires.

Warmer temperatures and increased drought are the key factors, said Colorado-based researchers who took a close look at patterns of beetle-kill and wildfires in recent years.

Their study found that western forests killed by mountain pine beetles are no more at risk to burn than healthy forests. Those findings  fly in the face of both public perception and policy, the scientists acknowledged.

“What we are seeing in this study is that at broad scales, fire does not necessarily follow mountain pine beetles,” said CU-Boulder Research Scientist Tania Schoennagel, of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “It’s well known, however, that fire does follow drought.” Continue reading

Wildfire season starts slow for 2d year in a row

Continued Western drought, warmth set stage for significant wildfires later this summer

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After a dry and warm winter, southern Alaska will have a better than average chance of signficant wildfire activity this spring. Map via NIFC.

By Bob Berwyn

Western wildfires have always been shape-shifting beasts, roaring to life wherever there is hot and dry weather, wind and fuel. But last year’s relatively cool and wet summer brought relief to parts of the region — including Colorado — that had been especially hard the previous few years.

The 2015 wildfire season is starting similarly slow to last year, according to statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center showing that, since January 1, there have been about 6,200 fires that burned across a 100,000 acre footprint, just 30 percent of the average from the past 10 years. Continue reading

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