Category: Forest health

Can the Southwest’s forests survive global warming?

New study projects widespread forest mortality by 2100

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Vast swaths of spruce trees have died in southern Colorado during the past few years. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.
Forest ecosystems around the world are under the gun from climate change, development, insect invasions and conversion to agriculture. This stand of lodgepoles in Colorado was clear cut after pine beetles killed most of the trees.
Forest ecosystems around the world are under the gun from climate change, development, insect invasions and conversion to agriculture. This stand of lodgepoles in Colorado was clear cut after pine beetles killed most of the trees. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Unless deep greenhouse gas cuts happen soon, last month’s historic climate agreement may be too little, too late for some forests in the American Southwest, where scientists are projecting a widespread die-off of needleleaf evergreens — including pine, spruce, piñon and juniper trees — by 2100.

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.

“No matter how we investigated the problem, we got the same result. This consensus gives us confidence in this projection of forest mortality,” said Sara Rauscher, assistant professor of geography in University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.

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?”

President Obama highlights ‘moral obligation’ to future generations in sustainability memorandum

This was one of the Snake River shots that never made into a daily post.
A presidential memorandum could mean more institutional love for America’s natural resources. @berwyn photo.

Federal agencies must target ‘no net loss’ in new projects

By Bob Berwyn

Federal agencies will be expected to make natural resource sustainability a key focus under a new presidential memorandum released this week.

Outlining a moral obligation to future generations, President Barack Obama said Americans have the ingenuity and tools needed to “avoid damage to the most special places in our nation and to find new ways to restore areas that have been degraded. ” Continue reading “President Obama highlights ‘moral obligation’ to future generations in sustainability memorandum”

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

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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”

Environment: More maple tree woes

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What’s up with maple trees?

Study documents widespread growth slowdown

Staff Report

An extensive tree-ring study in the Northeast suggests a widespread and steady decline in the health of sugar maples, one of most economically and ecologically important trees in the eastern United States and Canada.

The decline started showing up in the 1970s a decline in the growth rate of of sugar maple trees, but the reasons are still unclear, according to the State University of New York researchers who recently published their findings in the open-access journal “Ecosphere.” Continue reading “Environment: More maple tree woes”

Forests and CO2 — It’s complicated!

One of the few lodgepole seedlings to survive the industrial clearcutting on the north shore of the Frisco Peninsula.
Climate models may be overestimating the carbon-capturing capacity of forests. @bberwyn photo.

Loss of nitrogen a key factor in forest equation

Staff Report

Forests may grow faster as atmospheric CO2 increases, but that doesn’t mean they’ll absorb more of the heat-trapping gas. Instead, a shortage of nitrogen means plants won’t be able to fix as much carbon as projected by some climate models.

“Forests take up carbon from the atmosphere, but in order for the plants to fix the carbon, it requires a certain amount of nitrogen,” said researchers Prasanth  who took a close look at the chemistry of secondary forests that are regrowing after deforestation, wood harvest and fires.

“If that ratio of carbon to nitrogen isn’t right, even if you add many times more carbon than it gets currently, the forests cannot absorb the extra carbon,” Meiyappan said. Continue reading “Forests and CO2 — It’s complicated!”

Scientists slam Congress for once again considering misguided forest management bills

The magenta-flowered fireweed, which springs up after a burn, dominates a landscape once covered in black spruce in Alaskas Yukon Flats. Credit: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The magenta-flowered fireweed, which springs up after a burn, dominates a landscape once covered in black spruce in Alaskas Yukon Flats. Credit: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

‘Fire is not destroying our forests, rather, it is restoring these ecosystems …’

Staff Report

A group of scientists has weighed in on the political tug-of-war over forest policies by writing a letter to the U.S. Senate and President Obama, warning that two bills currently on the table would be destructive to forest ecosystems and wildlife

At issue are House Resolution 2647 and Senate Bill 1691, both proposed in response to ongoing concerns about forest fires. But the measures won’t improve forest health or reduce fire risks, the scientists said. Instead, the laws are aimed at short-cutting environmental studies, reducing public involvement and preventing courts from enforcing environmental laws.

The role of the timber industry in federal forest management would also unfairly increase under the deceptive guise of promoting decision-making by “collaborative” groups, the scientists wrote.

Continue reading “Scientists slam Congress for once again considering misguided forest management bills”

Study says some forests may not recover from mega-disturbances in the global warming era

Colorado aspens
There have been significant die-backs in Colorado aspen forests during recent hot droughts and the stands may never regenerate in some areas because of global warming. @bberwyn photo.

Giant fires, insect outbreaks could be ‘game-changer’ for some forests

Staff Report

FRISCO —Forest Service researchers say “mega-disturbances” like giant wildfires and insect outbreaks are likely to hasten the slow demise of temperate forest ecosystems in the coming decades.

Even without those large-scale events, some forests appear to be transitioning to shrublands and steppe, and big disturbances could speed that process, according to a new study published this month in Science. Continue reading “Study says some forests may not recover from mega-disturbances in the global warming era”