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

What drives extreme fires? It’s mostly the weather

Forest Service scientists study aftermath of Rim Fire to assess effectiveness of forest health treatments

A NASA Earth Observatory image shows smoke plumes from the Rim Fire in August, 2013. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

A NASA Earth Observatory image shows smoke plumes from the Rim Fire in August, 2013. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

Staff Report

FRISCO — A detailed new study of fire behavior of the 2013 Rim Fire in Yosemite provides a nuanced view of the effectiveness of forest health treatments.

The Rim Fire was the largest recorded fire in the Sierra Nevada region, and U.S. Forest Service researchers said in their study that the fire burned with moderate to high intensity on days the Rim Fire was dominated by a large pyro-convective plume, a powerful column of smoke, gases, ash, and other debris — regardless of the number of prior fires, topography, or forest conditions. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Captive breeding program launched for critically endangered Arizona squirrel

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A Mt. Graham red squirrel, via USFWS.

Less than 300 Mt. Graham red squirrels left in the wild

Staff Report

FRISCO — A rare squirrel that lives only in fire-prone southern Arizona forests may get a new lease on life, as federal and state biologists team up for a captive breeding effort to try and bolster populations.

There are fewer than 300 Mount Graham red squirrels living in the wild. In recent years, their habitat has been devastated by large wildfires. Any new fires could wipe out the population, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Extended drought (especially in the higher-elevation forest types) and outbreaks of forest insects and other tree diseases have also taken a toll. Continue reading

Is smart land-use planning the best way to reduce wildfire risks?

‘Solely relying on public forest management to prevent homes burning by wildfire is simply barking up the wrong tree’

A wildfire burns through a western conifer forest. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

A wildfire burns through a western conifer forest. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Aggressive firefighting and preventive forest treatments are not making people less vulnerable to wildfire impacts. Instead, government authorized and funded  firefighting and land management policies may actually encourage development on inherently hazardous landscapes, leading to an amplification of human losses to wildfire, according to researchers with the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Colorado.

Their recent study in Nature says an adaptive approach, including changes in land-use policies, are the key to reducing wildfire risks, according to researchers with the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Colorado.

Continue reading

Study shows some types of beetle outbreaks may inhibit crown fires in Pacific Northwest forests

Spruce beetle populations are surging in the southern Rocky Mountains. bberwyn photo.

Spruce beetle populations are surging in the southern Rocky Mountains. bberwyn photo.

Study calls out inaccurate media reports about links between bugs and wildfires

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Dire warnings about how beetle outbreaks make forests more prone to fires are ringing increasingly hollow, as more and more forest research shows that other factors — especially weather — are more important drivers. In some cases, defoliation by bugs may actually lessen the the threat of disastrous crown fires.

In one of the latest studies, researchers with the University of Oregon and the U.S. Forest Service took a close look at the relationship between fires and spruce budworm infestations in the Pacific Northwest. They found that defoliation reduces both torching and crowning potential. Continue reading

Study: Pine beetle outbreaks not a big factor in the ecological severity of Western wildfires

Dead and dying lodgepole pines in Frisco, Colorado.

Dead and dying lodgepole pines in Frisco, Colorado.

Study shows no clear link between beetle-kill and ecological severity of western wildfires

Staff Report

FRISCO — For all their frenzied tree-killing during the past 10 years, mountain pine beetles haven’t been a big factor in the ecological severity of wildfires in the West, a team of university scientists said this week.

Weather and topography are the main factors in determining how much damage a wildfire does to forest ecosystems, according to the researchers with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides some of the first rigorous field data to test whether fires that burn in areas impacted by mountain pine beetles are more ecologically severe than in those not attacked by the native bug. The study didn’t look at fire behavior, including how fast they spread or how dangerous they are to fight. Continue reading

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