Forest Death in Western U.S.

The editorial below is a nice summary of consequences from warmer winters ( a beetle boom). So far, so good. But it doesn’t go on to explain the related and similar consequences of summer drought and increased frequency, length, and intensity of summer heat waves (sans the beetle) : dry, hot soils in which seedlings will struggle or fail to survive and replace the dead pines. The concept of forest as a renewable resource is hard to shake. And the importance of dead tree retention is still getting no media coverage. Lance


“According to a report released by the U.S. Forest Service Monday …. every mature, lodgepole-pine forest will be dead in three to five years. The culprit: warmer winters.”


Boulder Daily Camera January 16, 2008 Rocky Mountain die Hasta la vista, lodgepoles


Clint Talbott, for the editorial board It’s one thing to talk about the infestation of pine beetles in Colorado’s forests. It’s quite another to see the devastation from, say, the crest of the Continental Divide. Historically, the sweeping vista from high in the Indian Peaks Wilderness could take your breath away. It still can. But not in a good way. Down below, the familiar azure shapes of Grand Lake and its siblings appear as always. But the deep green of the lodgepole and ponderosa forest is succumbing to a massive wave of brown and orange, which signifies the death wrought by pine beetles. According to a report released by the U.S. Forest Service Monday, pine-beetle damage increased by 1,500 percent in Boulder County in the last year. Statewide, 500,000 acres were infested in 2007, bringing the total area affected to 1.5 million acres since the first signs of a beetle outbreak were noticed in 1996, the Camera reported. More alarming, the report projected that every mature, lodgepole-pine forest will be dead in three to five years. The culprit: warmer winters. Pine beetles are usually kept in check by extended, frigid temperatures of winter. In the Winter Park area, for instance, it was not unusual for temperatures to drop into double-digits – below zero – for many days. Beetles, which burrow into trees, can weather a mild cold snap, but they have greater trouble surviving a long deep freeze. The usual anti-empiricits dismissed the news, striving to deny that warmer temperatures (one product of our rapidly changing climate) is to blame. It’s fire suppression, some say. One denialist, cowering behind a fake name on the Camera’s blog, said, “I have NEVER read any papers conclusively pointing the blame at higher temps.” Of course, the supposed fact that one faceless commenter has read no conclusive papers does not mean that he hasn’t read papers that are, in fact, either convincing or conclusive. Or that, even if he hasn’t bothered to read them, that they nonetheless exist. The Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirms that such research does exist. Consider this section of Chapter 1 of the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC’s Working Group 2. “Climate warming can also change the disturbance regime of forests by extending the range of some damaging insects, as observed during the last 20 years for bark beetles in the USA (Williams and Liebhold, 2002).” Similarly, Chapter 5 notes, “Recent warming trends in the U.S. and Canada have led to earlier spring activity of insects and proliferation of some species, such as the mountain pine beetle (Crozier and Dwyer, 2006).” As the report noted, the dying forests will have major effects on the state. Water supplies could be impinged by sediment from deficient soil cover. Wildfire danger will rise, obviously. And dead trees harm tourism, as they discourage campers, skiers and hikers. There are larger concerns, too. Forests are carbon “sinks,” meaning they consume carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. When forests die, CO2 concentrations rise that much more. Further, the wildfire factor means that we could not only lose a carbon sink but gain additional greenhouse-gas emissions. North and Central America lose about 0.3 million hectares of forest annually. Much of that loss is from logging and other forms of deforestation. A factor of increasing significance, however, is beetle kill. It’s probably too late to stop the devastation of our lodgepole and ponderosa forests. But the destruction should serve as yet another reminder of the very real and clearly harmful results of our rapidly changing climate. . © 2006 Daily Camera and Boulder Publishing, LLC. — ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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