Category: forest fires

Environment: Can prescribed fires make forests more resilient?

New study focuses on drought-stricken California forests

Beetle-killed forests now dominate the landscape in Summit County. Prescribed fires are needed to help regenerate forests and clear dangerous fuels, according to White River NF supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.
Prescribed fires could help make forests more tolerant to drought and more resilient in a warmer climate. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

A rising tide of insect infestations, tree mortality and wildfires — all caused by global warming — has resulted in political pressure for more logging in U.S. Forests, but there’s plenty of research showing that cutting down trees doesn’t do much good and can even increase the fire danger.

Exploring alternative options for strengthening forest resiliency, researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service recently found that thinning forests with prescribed fires can reduce drought. Continue reading “Environment: Can prescribed fires make forests more resilient?”

U.S. wildfire season on pace to break last year’s record

Colorado forest fire
Climate change has increased the risk of dangerous forest fires across the West. @bberwyn photo.

Global warming a key factor in surge of giant forest blazes

By Bob Berwyn

With about 1.5 million acres already scarred by wildfires across the U.S. this year, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is warning of a long, hot fire season ahead. Following a meeting with regional Forest Service leaders, Vilsack, along with Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, said that federal budgets are not keeping pace with the steep increase in fires.

Vilsack said 2015 was the most expensive fire season in the department’s history, costing more than $2.6 billion on fire alone.

“The 2016 wildfire season is off to a worrisome start. Southern California, the Great Basin in Nevada, portions of the southwest, and even Florida and Hawaii are particularly vulnerable this year,” Vilsack said. The sustained California drought killed more than 40 million trees, which are all potential fuel, and projections for hot summer weather, driven by global warming and a massive El Niño hangover, will likely increase the danger even more, he added. Continue reading “U.S. wildfire season on pace to break last year’s record”

Experts project below average Rocky Mountain wildfire season

Alaska, Southwest could see early season forest fires

spring wildfire outlook rocky mountains
Experts say they aren’t expecting a severe wildfire season in the Rocky Mountain region.
Summit County wildfire
An unusual high elevation early season wildfire burns near Keystone, Colorado in 2012. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

April precipitation may have helped dampen the potential for a severe wildfire season in parts of the Rocky Mountain region and in the adjacent Great Plains, according to a new outlook from the interagency Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center.

The projections is based on various seasonal indicators including precipitation, snowpack average, temperatures, wind, plant and soil moisture, and the timing of green-up. These indices support a below average to near average fire season in 2016.

“The timing of the recent precipitation events, primarily in April, has been critical to assure the availability of soil moisture and subsequent green-up, which diminishes the threat of an early onset of fire season,” said RMACC fire meteorologist Tim Mathewson. Continue reading “Experts project below average Rocky Mountain wildfire season”

Aerial forest surveys track continued spread of spruce beetles across Colorado forests

State, federal scientists track forest health

Aerial survey results show how spruce beetles are taking a toll across Colorado’s forests, with new areas of infestation in the Sange de Cristo, the West Elks and even the northern mountains.
Spruce beetle populations are surging in the southern Rocky Mountains. bberwyn photo.
Spruce beetles are still spreading in the southern Rocky Mountains. @bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

The latest results from aerial surveys of Colorado forests shows that spruce beetles are doing the most damage, with infestations detected on 409,000 acres across the state, expanding onto 182,000 acres of previously unaffected forests. Since 1996, spruce beetle outbreaks have caused varying degrees of tree mortality on more than 1.5 million acres in Colorado.

The mapping shows spruce beetles spreading outward from the San Juans to the West Elk Mountains, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and into the northern part of the state around Rocky Mountain National Park. See the full report here:

State forest experts said it was the fourth year in a row that spruce beetle outbreaks caused widespread tree mortality. As populations of spruce beetles expand, they are starting to affect higher-elevation stands of Engelmann spruce. The report says blowdown events, combined with long-term drought stress, warmer temperatures and extensive amounts of older, dense spruce, have all contributed to the ongoing spruce beetle outbreak. Continue reading “Aerial forest surveys track continued spread of spruce beetles across Colorado forests”

Wildfires burned across 10 million acres in 2015

Feds spend more than $2.6 billion on fire suppression

Wildfire activity surged in 2015. Graph courtesy NIFC.

By Bob Berwyn

For the first time in the era of modern record-keeping, wildfires burned across more than 10 million acres in 2015, mainly due to a series of large fires in Alaska.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, there were more than 50 fires that exceeded 50,000 acres, and 20 fires exceeded more than 100,000 acres. The fires destroyed more than 4,500 homes and other structures and killed 13 wildland firefighters.

The big wildfire season came after two-year lull, when the total wildfire footprint stayed below 5 million acres. For the last years, the average now stands at about 6.6 million acres.

The uptick in fires is no surprise to experts, who have been warning that global warming will result in bigger burns. Alaska, for example, reported its second-warmest year on record in 2015. Since 2000, fire seasons have grown longer, and the frequency, size and severity of wildland fires has increased.

In 2013, scientists linked a spate of massive Siberian wildfires with a “stuck” weather pattern associated with global warming. Overall, scientists say, those links are becoming more clear. It’s also clear that forests will have a more difficult time rebounding from fires as temperatures warm. Continue reading “Wildfires burned across 10 million acres in 2015”

Forest Service steps up restoration efforts in 2015

Colorado aspens
Restoration work needed across 65 million acres of national forest lands.

With wildfire costs soaring, agency takes funds from other programs

Staff Report

U.S. Forest Service officials said they were able to step up the pace of restoration projects in 2015 despite facing tough budget challenges during a record wildfire season.

Despite the gains, at least 65 million National Forest System acres are still in need of restoration, agency leaders said, explaining that the rising cost of wildfire suppression has taken funding away from restoration, watershed and wildlife programs, limiting the Forest Service’s ability to do the work that would prevent fires in the first place. Continue reading “Forest Service steps up restoration efforts in 2015”

Forests: Study says spruce beetle not a big factor in recent southwest Colorado wildfires

A major spruce beetle outbreak has been spreading across forests of southwest Colorado, but that hasn’t been a big factor in recent wildfires in the region, according to CU-Boulder research.

Climate, topography likely more significant, researchers say

Staff Report

Colorado researchers have added another chapter to the long-running debate over beetle-kill and wildfires, finding that spruce beetle infestations haven’t increased the severity of wildfires in southwestern Colorado.

Spruce bark beetles have affected roughly half a million acres of Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir forests across the state in recent years, with infestations documented across an additional 87,000 acres in 2014. Continue reading “Forests: Study says spruce beetle not a big factor in recent southwest Colorado wildfires”