Climate change is wiping out forests on a staggering scale
California’s multiyear drought killed even more trees than previously thought, the U.S. Forest Service announced this week. Aerial and ground surveys show that 26 million trees across six counties in Southern California died, in addition to the 40 million trees that died statewide from 2010 to October 2015. Four years of drought, high temperatures and an outbreak of tree-killing bark beetles all contributed the historic levels of tree die-off, the agency said.
Around the same time, pine beetles started spreading across northern Colorado, parts of Wyoming and North Dakota, ultimately killing millions of acres of forest. And just as the pine beetle infestation waned, a spruce beetle outbreak in southern Colorado started to spread. Since 1996, spruce beetles have killed trees across about 1.5 million acres of forest.
New study focuses on drought-stricken California forests
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.
New analysis offers important forest health information
Colorful mushrooms that pop up in forests around the world are much more than decorative baubles. Much more than realized, fungi are key components of forest ecosystems, helping to regulate the carbon cycle and driving the nutrient exchange between soil and trees.
Dried grass glows under afternoon sunlight against the backdrop of a dark forest in Thayatal National Park, Lower Austria.
Late afternoon light shimmers on budding trees in Thayatal National Park, Lower Austria.
A fallen beech in Thayatal National Park, Austria.
Green tinged fields in Lower Austria under an evening sky.
A spring rainstorm builds above the agricultural plains north of Vienna, Austria.
The Lower Austrian landscape encompasses everything from wild beech forests and deep river canyons to manicured fields — not to mention acres and acres of vineyard, but that’s another story! Austrians are still getting used to the concept of national parks. Thayatal was founded in 2002, so some local visitors still don’t quite understand why the park managers simply leave downed trees on the ground. It’s considered a waste by some, and the park features signs explaining how it’s a deliberate effort to recreate landscapes where natural processes are left to function without much interference. In this small country, nearly every acre of land is spoken for, most of it outside towns and cities dedicated to agriculture, but slowly, resource managers are making some headway in restoring natural ecosystems in a few areas, to the benefit of native species.
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”→
Feds spend more than $2.6 billion on fire suppression
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.
After combining data from field observations with climate model projections, the research team concluded that 72 percent of the region’s needleleaf evergreen forests will die by 2050, with nearly 100 percent mortality by 2100.
It’s pretty clear that the die-off is already under way. Even drought-resistant species like piñon pines were hit hard by a drought in the early 2000s. A massive bark beetle infestation wiped out millions of acres of lodgepole pines in the southern Rockies, and spruce beetles have taken a big toll on once-lush spruce forests in southern Colorado. Continue reading “Can the Southwest’s forests survive global warming?”→