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Forests: CU study traces evolution of pine beetle outbreak

Beetle-killed lodgepole pines dominate the landscape in many parts of Summit County.

2002 drought played key role in accelerating insect invasion

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Drought conditions in the early 2000s helped pine beetle populations surge to unprecedented levels, according to a new University of Colorado study that charts the evolution of the current pine beetle epidemic in the southern Rocky Mountains.

But even when the drought eased, the outbreak continued to gain ground, spreading into wetter and higher elevations and into less susceptible tree stands — those with smaller diameter lodgepoles sharing space with other tree species, according to CU-Boulder doctoral student Teresa Chapman.

“In recent years some researchers have thought the pine beetle outbreak in the southern Rocky Mountains might have started in one place and spread from there,” said Chapman. “What we found was that the mountain pine beetle outbreak originated in many locations. The idea that the outbreak spread from multiple places, then coalesced and continued spreading, really highlights the importance of the broad-scale drivers of the pine beetle epidemic like climate and drought.” Continue reading

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Global warming: More fires, fewer lodgepole pines

Increasing temps and fire frequency could drive rapid and dramatic changes in subalpine and boreal forests

Lodgepole pine forests like this one in the Black Hills of South Dakota could see big changes in just a few decades as temperatures and fire frequency increase.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Warmer temperatures in the West will increase the frequency of fires in Yellowstone’s vast lodgepole pine stands, which could result in dramatic changes to the region’s forest landscapes in the next few decades.

“What surprised us about our results was the speed and scale of the projected changes in fire in Greater Yellowstone,” said Anthony Westerling, a professor of environmental engineering and geography at University of California, Merced. “We expected fire to increase with increased temperatures, but we did not expect it to increase so much or so quickly. We were also surprised by how consistent the changes were across different climate projections.”

The results suggest that  subalpine and boreal forests in other parts of the West could also see dramatic changes within just a few decades. Continue reading

Colorado: Get your firewood now!

Colorado Forest Service selling lodgepole cord wood

The Colorado State Forest Service is selling lodgepole pine firewood for $10 per cord.

By Summit Voice

The Colorado State Forest in north-central Colorado is selling self-serve permits now through September for beetle-kill firewood at $10 per cord. The low fee is designed to encourage citizens to meet their wood-burning needs by utilizing the build-up of dead wood in the State Forest, as part of a forest management plan intended in part to reduce the fuel available for an intense wildfire.

Clearing dead trees also provides young, living trees more light, which encourages growth and enhances wildlife habitat. The State Forest has 28,000 acres of lodgepole pine, a majority of which has been impacted in recent years by mountain pine beetles. Continue reading

Summit County awards $247,000 for wildfire mitigation

A map showing priority treatments for wildfire mitigation in the Tenmile Basin. Click on the map for the full-size version and visit the county's wildfire mitigation web page for maps of all the basins.

Grant program targets fuel reduction around neighborhoods and in open space areas

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Local officials last week awarded $247,000 for local projects under the hazardous fuels reduction grant program, including $26,500 to treat 19 acres in the Spruce Valley area at a cost of about $2,700 per acre.

The grant applications were reviewed by the  local wildfire council for suitability, then recommended to the county commissioners for approval. Generally, the county grants are matching funds, covering half the total project cost.

The wildfire council recommended 15 of 16 projects for approval, turning down only a $5,000 request from the Tenderfoot Track Club, the organization running the motorized recreational area between the Dillon Cemetery and the county landfill. Continue reading

Week in review & most-viewed stories

Desert dust, visible as reddish discoloration, has been implicated in avalanches, and is causing the Colorado snowpack to melt suddenly and much earlier than expected, and a new study shows those desert storms may become more common as global warming causes vegetation loss in the Southwest.

Big-box imperialism, desert dust and vanishing lodgepole pines …

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The most popular story on Summit Voice last week was a report on a Lowe’s development battle in Miami-Dade County, where community and environmental groups challenged the local government’s decision to arbitrarily expand an urban development zone to enable big-box development. The ensuing court case had some similarities to a similar conflict over a proposed Lowe’s development in Silverthorne, Colorado.

A story on the potential for more frequent and intense desert dust storms that taint Colorado snow was second on the list, followed by yet another forest health story, this one outlining the potential demise of more than 80 percent of the Lodgepole pine habitat in the West. Click on the headlines below to read more and use the share buttons at the end of each story to help grow independent journalism in the Rockies.

More headlines from the past week after the break … Continue reading

White River NF chief visits forest health task force

The scale of the beetle-kill in Summit County is evident in this picture, from the trees along the shore of Dillon Reservoir to high up the slopes of the Ten Mile Range. Click on the image for the full-size view.

Fitzwilliams to discuss forest health plans at Jan. 13 meeting in Frisco

SUMMIT COUNTY — White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams isn’t afraid to talk about ecosystem restoration on a landscape scale. One of his recent initiatives includes a project in the Roaring Fork Valley that includes re-introducing fire to the landscape as a way of improving wildlife habitat.

Fitzwilliams will share his vision of a healthy, sustainable forest at the Jan.13 meeting of the forest health task force, set for 7:30 a.m. at the Frisco Community Center.

As the featured speaker, Fitzwilliams will lead a discussion about ongoing and planned initiatives to improve the condition of a forest devastated by a bark beetle infestation that has already destroyed three million acres of lodgepole pine trees in the state. He will  emphasize the role of public-private partnerships in addressing the increased risk of catastrophic wildfire due to high fuel loading both in the backcountry and its adjacent wildland-urban interface. Continue reading

Photoblog: Forest clearcuts, regeneration and fire

A visual journey through some Rocky Mountain clearcuts and burns

A striking image from the scene of the Brush Creek fire west of Whitefish Montana. The green areas are regeneration clearcuts that were unaffected by the fire that burned through the surrounding mature forest.

*Editor’s note: These photos were submitted by Derek Weidensee, a regular Summit Voice reader who often comments on forest health stories. His photo essay shows how a pattern of burned mature forests and clearcut areas with younger trees that did not succumb to the flames.


Dear Editor:
I call this series of photos “clearcuts don’t burn.” I’ve photographed this phenomenon on eight different Montana fires over the last few years.  I wanted to share with you some more “clearcuts don’t burn” photos I took a month ago in Montana. The “green islands” are regenerated clearcuts 20-40 years old. They are all of the 2008 Rat Creek fire and the 2000 Mussingbrod fire both west of Wisdom Montana. I think you’ll find them interesting. In light of the MPB epidemic, I think it goes a long way towards answering the question “does salvage logging mitigate fire hazard”

If you’re into “google earth”, you can type in  the following latitudes and Longitudes into the “fly too” box and see the location of the photos and another striking “green island”  visual. “45 44 56.65N, 113 44 10.71W” is where the above pictures were taken.  Here’s another good one in the same area-45 41 34.44N, 113 45 13.15W. One of my faves is this one 200 miles north: 48 48 22.39N, 115 11 12.55 W. The “green polygons” are regen clearcuts. And finally try 48 25 35.01N, 114 49 44.43W. Click on the “clock face” on the toolbar to see “before fire” photos.

I also wanted to give you a “link” to a couple things I have had published. The following is a link to all the research I’ve found regarding the clearcuts don’t burn phenomenon.

This is a link to something I call “Forest role reversal”. As the regenerated clearcuts mature and the mature forests die, the “forage and cover” roles have changed. Now the question is when the dead mature enters the “deadfall” phase, what will the “quality” of the forage habitat be? How accesible will it be? What research has been done on this?

Ophir Mountain logging aims at long-term forest health

Click on the image to see a full-size version of the map.

Summit County logging proposal raises universal questions about beetle-kill and forest health

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — U.S. Forest Service rangers got an earful Thursday night in Frisco, as residents commented on the agency’s latest forest health proposal for about 1,700 acres on and around Ophir Mountain, between Frisco and Breckenridge.

The Forest Service wants to treat areas where mountain pine beetles have already killed up to 80 percent of the mature lodgepole pines with the goals of reducing fuel loading and regenerating the forest. Read the scoping notice here.

The agency is taking written comments on the proposal through Nov. 1. During the winter, a team of specialists will review and address those comments in the environmental analysis, which will be released next spring. Get more details on the proposal and information on commenting at the end of this story.

During the lively question and answer session, some area residents raised questions about the extent of proposed clear-cutting and expressed concerns about impact to trails — similar to questions that were raised about the Breckenridge forest health and fuels reduction project, scheduled to be issued in its final form within the next couple of weeks. While the proposal has the potential to become contentious, at least some residents have an open mind. Continue reading

Rangers start cutting hazard trees near Summit trails

Beetle-killed lodgepoles surround the Old Dillon Reservoir trailhead in Summit County.

Tree-clearing planned along 20 miles of trail this summer, with 100 miles next year


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By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —  The Tenderfoot Trail near Dillon, will be closed Thursday and Friday (July 8 & 9) as a crew of U.S. Forest Service tree specialists cut down beetle-killed lodgepoles that could fall on hikers. Altogether, the agency plans to clear trees from alongside 20 miles of trail this summer, with an additional 100 miles planned for next year.

“The trees will be left on site adjacent to the trail,” said Ken Waugh, recreation staff officer for the Dillon Ranger District. “We understand this will reduce the visual quality for trail users. However, public safety will be greatly improved.” Read all our stories on the White River National Forest here. Continue reading

After beetles, what’s next for Summit County’s forests?

Some lodgepole areas are showing signs of re-growth, but absence of fire and reforestation could slow forest regeneration

Giant piles of logs stacked near Swan Mountain Road have yet to be moved to a sawmill or chipping facility. I wonder if the logging contract issued by the Forest Service includes a deadline for removing the timber?

SUMMIT COUNTY — While mountain pine beetles continue to spread in some parts of Summit County, other areas are already on their way to recovery. Given the uncertainties of climate change and continued human disturbance in local forest ecosystem — not to mention the absence of aggressive reforestation efforts on any meaningful scale — it’s not exactly clear what comes next.

A few days ago as I drove over Swan Mountain Road between Breckenridge and Keystone, I noticed a distinct sheen of green sprouting between the ragged lodgepole pine stumps. So early Saturday morning, I wandered out into the clear-cut areas along the road to see what’s happening.

See the rest of the photo essay after the break … Continue reading

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