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Study: Colorado forests not doomed

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New dawn for Colorado’s beetle-killed forests.

Intensive research shows vigorous regrowth in beetle-killed tracts

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — After years of uncertainty over the future of Colorado’s forest landscapes, a new study by U.S. Forest Service scientists puts the recent pine epidemic into perspective.

The insect outbreak ultimately will result in more diverse and resilient forests in the long run, adding structural complexity and species diversity, researchers with the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station concluded after carefully monitoring regrowth in beetle-killed stands.

New growth is surging under the dying lodgepole canopy with the vertical growth rate of lodgepole and fir doubling in beetle-killed areas that were left untreated after the epidemic. Harvested stands also showed strong lodgepole regrowth, with aspen gaining ground in some places.

“Forests come and go … It’s not a crisis, but this was an amazing synchronism,” Forest Service biogeochemist Chuck Rhoades said of the massive pine beetle outbreak that will alter the forest landscape of the Southern Rockies for generations to come.

The bugs swarmed across vast swaths of the Canadian Rockies; they’ve invaded the Front Range and moved east to the Dakotas, especially the forests of the Black Hills.

“This event is not over, but the fear part should be over,” said Rhoades, who, with a team of researchers from the Fort Collins-based Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, has been carefully studying regeneration in beetle-killed areas. “But the idea of forest health and maintaining forest ecosystem processes is something we’ll always be thinking about,” he said. Continue reading

Climate: Bark beetles invading high-elevation forests

Whitebark pines are in imminent danger of extinction, and global warming is one of the most significant threats to the species. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Whitebark pines are in imminent danger of extinction, and global warming is one of the most significant threats to the species. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Researchers see threat to whitebark pines

By Summit Voice

FRISCO —Bark beetles have already killed millions of acres of mid-elevation forests across the West, and warming temperatures are enabling the tree-killing bugs to invade higher elevations, where they are attacking trees that haven’t evolved with strong defenses to repel them.

Global warming is essentially giving the insects a huge advantage, as the trees, with their long lifespans, have no chance to develop biological resistance, according to researchers from the the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who report a rising threat to the whitebark pine forests of the northern Rocky Mountains. Continue reading

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Summit County: Task force to provide overview and update of local forest health efforts

Learn more about local forest conditions this week with the Summit Forest Health Task Force.

Aug. 29 lunch meeting includes info on local logging and restoration

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Local forests appear to be starting a comeback from a decade-long pine beetle invasion that killed up to 75 percent of mature lodgepole pines in the area, says Howard Hallman, co-director of the Summit Forest Health Task Force, which has been tracking the course of the epidemic and working with stakeholders to spur mitigation and restoration efforts.

The task force is hosting a lunchtime roundtable this week (Aug. 29) to update the community on beetle-kill logging projects in the area, as well as on efforts to monitor the state of local forests in the wake of the insect outbreak. The meeting is at the Mt. Royal Room in the County Commons and includes pizza, salad and drinks. Continue reading

Forests: Red, dead needles burn faster

Researchers continue to pinpoint the fire risk associated with beetle-killed trees.

New study helps quantify ignition time of beetle-killed trees

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Chemical changes in pine attacked by bark beetles start as soon as two weeks after the bugs start to burrow under the bark and make the trees more prone to ignition.

Overall, beetle-killed trees in the early and mid-stages of infestation may pose a greater risk of fast-spreading crown fires, though other factors are also important, including the structure of the tree, the presence or absence of ground and ladder fuels and terrain and weather. Continue reading

Summit County: Pine beetle numbers drop sharply

Only a few pockets of high activity remain 

Large swaths of Summit County forests survived the latest pine beetle epidemic. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

SUMMIT COUNTY — The mountain pine beetle epidemic that spread through Colorado’s north-central mountains and other parts of the West is subsiding in Summit and Eagle counties, according to the Colorado State Forest Service.

A Colorado State Forest Service map shows the distribution of lodgepole pines in Colorado.

In the end, the bugs killed about 75 percent of the mature, susceptible lodgepole pine trees in the area, according to Colorado state forester Paul Cada. In neighboring Grand County, where lodgepole forests were even more prevalent than in Summit County, between 95 to 98 percent of the trees were killed by the beetles, Cada said.

He estimated that about 60 percent of Summit County’s forest cover consisted of lodgepole pine before the beetle outbreak, with 40 percent a mix of spruce and fir (along with a sprinkling of aspen and tiny pockets of trees like Douglas fir, which grow on rocky outcrops around Swan Mountain). Continue reading

Breckenridge: Forest summit meeting comes to CMC

Panels will focus on science and management

There are still considerable areas of healthy forest in Summit County, but nobody really talks about them anymore.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Conservation experts, forest managers, loggers and scientists will gather at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge this week to pow-wow once again on the condition of Colorado’s devastated lodgepole pine stands.

The Colorado Bark Beetle Collaborative summit meeting is set for Friday, October 28, from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge. Continue reading

Experts surprised by intense fires in beetle-killed stands

Montana wildfire observations will increase understanding of fire behavior in changing Western forests

The Saddle Complex fire burned so intensely that it created its own weather, which further fueled the fire. PHOTO COURTESY MAGGIE MILLIGAN.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Fire experts said they were surprised by the intensity of a pair of fires that burned in Montana this summer during less-than-extreme fire weather. The fire moved through areas of beetle-killed lodgepole faster than some previous fire modeling suggested.

The rapid spread of the two fires was probably the result of a perfect mix of fuels, including recent  beetle-killed lodgepole pine with flammable red needles, stands of older beetle-kill in the gray stage. Live trees and an a full-grown understory that provided ladder fuels.

The observations could help experts gain a better understanding of how fires will behave in beetle-killed forests. Some previous fire observations, in Yellowstone, for example, suggested that pure stands of dead gray-stage lodgepoles could actually slow the spread of a blaze, and some fire modeling has also suggested that the gray trees are not as susceptible to fire. Continue reading

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