Category: forest fires

Sunday set: Global change

Travel a little, learn a lot

This set includes illustrations for some of my most recent stories in various environmental and climate news publications and if you’re a regular Summit Voice reader who is not on Twitter or Instagram, I’m providing a few links here.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how some of Greenlands coastal glaciers already passed passed a climate change tipping point about 20 years ago. Because of the physical processes of snowmelt and runoff, these glaciers are going to disappear even if global greenhouse gas emissions are cut to zero immediately. You can read the story here.

For Pacific Standard, I put together an environmental photo essay on bumblebees, some of the most important pollinators of wildflowers, especially in mountain regions and also in the far north. Bumblebees are important because they are cold-tolerant, so they’re out and about visiting early blooms while other pollinators are dormant. They’ll also fly long distances to visit a single flower. Without them, some species would go extinct. Check out the photo essay here.

You might have seen the recent Summit Voice story on beach erosion and how it’s going to wash away some world famous surf spots along the California coast, and in other areas where coastal strands are ringed by mountains, but if you missed it, you can see it here.

I also wrote about the annual Austrian glacier report for Deutsche Welle, a great global news organization that really does in-depth environmental and climate reporting. You can visit the DW website here, or follow them on Twitter for a daily feed. And my story on the dwindling glaciers is here.

Finally, in a critical story for Colorado and the rest of the West, I reported on how we are losing the war on wildfires and how we need to change our way of thinking about forests and fires in an era of rapid climate change. The story is online at Pacific Standard.

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Global warming hampers post-fire forest regrowth in Colorado

‘We are seeing the initiation of a retreat of forests to higher elevations’

A June, 2011 wildfire in Keystone Gulch burned within a few hundred feet of vacation homes and full-time residences at the Colorado resort.
A June, 2011 wildfire in Keystone Gulch burned within a few hundred feet of vacation homes and full-time residences at the Colorado resort. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Global warming is likely one of the main factors that’s preventing some Colorado forests from regenerating after wildfires.

When they started studying eight wildfire sites that burned across 162,000 acres of low-elevation forests along the Front Range, University of Colorado Boulder researchers said they expected to see young trees popping up all over the place, but that’s not what they found.

There were no seedlings at all in 59 percent of the study plots and 83 percent showed a very low density of seedlings. Future warming and associated drought may hinder significant further recovery, the researchers concluded. Only 2 to 38 percent of plots surveyed, depending on the fire site, were considered stocked, or on their way to recovery. Continue reading “Global warming hampers post-fire forest regrowth in Colorado”

Massive forest death continues in California

Latest survey tallies more than 100 milion dead trees

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A stand of pine-beetle killed lodgepole pines on the White River National Forest. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

California’s long-term drought has claimed another 36 million trees, the U.S. Forest Service said this week, announcing the results of a new aerial survey. Since 2010, more than 100 million trees have died across 7.7 million acres, the agency said.

The die-off intensified in 2016, after four years of drought,  with mortality increasing 100 percent. Millions of additional trees are weakened and expected to die in the coming months and years. Forest Service leaders once again emphasized that their ability to address safety issues linked with dead trees has been severely hampered by climate change and limited resources.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said a broken budget for the Forest Service sees an increasing amount of resources going to firefighting while less is invested in restoration and forest health.  Continue reading “Massive forest death continues in California”

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

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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: http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/USFSR2ForestHealth.

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”