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Climate: New Forest Service report outlines risk to grasslands, shrub lands and deserts

“Research has revealed direct evidence of the effects of climate change on ecosystems and many plant and animal species”

Vegetation mosaics will shift dramatically in coming decades.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Some of the most widely accepted climate change models suggest that, by the end of this century, more than half of all western landscapes won’t be able to support the type of vegetation that exist there now.

Specifically, habitat for Rocky Mountain subalpine conifer forests and Great Basin alpine tundra could shrink to nearly nothing; habitat for pinyon-juniper woodlands will move northward and uphill, and semi-desert grassland areas will expand four-fold, according to a new report issued by the Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station.

In some areas, flammable invasive species like cheatgrass will expand and increase the risk of wildfires, while other uncommon species like smooth Arizona cypress and the endangered perennial MacFarlane’s four-o’clock may experience complete climate disequilibrium early in the century.

The report focuses on impacts to grasslands, shrub lands and deserts as ecosystems that don’t get as much attention as forests, yet are equally at risk to climate change impacts. That lack of attention has left land managers without adequate information to make informed decisions. according to the report. Continue reading

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Report: Wildfire mitigation work largely ineffective in moderating the 2010 Fourmile Canyon Fire near Boulder

Due to surface fuel accumulation, Fourmile Canyon Fire burned more intensely in some treated zones

Even widely spaced trees can readily ignite and burn when crowns extend down to the  forest  floor near surface fuels.  Photo courtesy USFS/Molly Wineteer.

This logged area in Summit County near I-70 may be more susceptible to a catastrophic crown fire because of the high concentration of surface and ladder fuels left after the treatment. Photo by Bob Berwyn.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —A report on the 2010 Fourmile Canyon Fire will probably raise more questions than it answers for firefighters and land managers, concluding that, in some cases, the ferocious fire near Boulder may have burned more intensely in treated areas than in adjacent untreated stands.

That may have been due to the relatively high concentration of surface fuels remaining after treatments, as well as the higher wind speeds that can occur in open forests compared to those with denser canopies, Forest Service researchers concluded in the report published last month.

Up until the horrific fire storms of this summer, the Fourmile Canyon blaze was the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history measured by the number of homes lost (162), and a recently finalized U.S. Forest Service report on the Fourmile Canyon fire is eerily prescient. 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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