Finally: Some good news for our forests



Yesterday, we got a lot of rain. Good for some areas. Not so much for others.

The sky poured moisture on the barren scar of the Waldo Canyon Fire threatening homes — which scarcely escaped the summer's biggest blaze — with avalanches of mud.

But this blog isn't about those struggles; this blog is about some good land news — for our forests.

Yes, there actually is some. The U.S. Forest Service has released a report showing that the number of insect-killed trees on 750 acres of forested private and public land across the nation is on the decline for the second year in a row. That's true despite the droughts and warm temperatures that have created a feeding frenzy for bark beetles. The report notes:

In 2011, more than 6.4 million acres with mortality caused by insects and diseases were reported nationally, a 2.8-millionacre decrease from 2010, when 9.2 million acres with mortality were reported. During the past 2 years, progressively fewer acres with mortality have been reported, perhaps indicating a downward trend as compared with 2009, when 11.8 million acres with mortality were reported. Slightly more than 59 percent of the mortality was caused by one pest, the mountain pine beetle, a native insect found in Western U.S. forests.

bar graph showing mountain pine beetle decline
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • The mountain pine beetle is in decline across the nation, though it's still killing plenty of trees in Colorado.

Of course, the bark beetle still remains a force to be reckoned with in Colorado, where its kill rate remains high. But the good news is that the bugs are killing fewer of the old lodgepole pines in the high country. And while Colorado still is at high risk, Montana and Idaho are being hit hardest by the beetle.

bar graph showing mountain pine beetle kills by state

The MPB epidemic in northern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming continues, although the populations rapidly decline west of the Continental Divide (Grand, Jackson, Routt, and Summit Counties) in 2011. East of the Continental Divide, Front Range counties experienced a variety of epidemic MPB conditions; populations declined in several Front Range areas, including Gilpin and Park Counties, and, along the northern Front Range, epidemic levels of MPB populations remained about the same in Boulder and Jefferson Counties but continued to increase in Larimer County. MPB mortality occurred in four host tree species, including lodgepole pine (fig. 4), ponderosa pine, limber pine, and Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine. The spread of MPB from high-elevation lodgepole pine forests into low-elevation ponderosa pine forests occurred readily in Larimer and northern Boulder Counties, affecting more densely populated wildland-urban interface communities on the Front Range. Ornamental pine plantings are being lost to MPB near Colorado’s State capital, Denver. MPB is killing lodgepole pine in large numbers, particularly in the vicinities of Aspen and Vail, CO. Although a number of sites are experiencing MPB activity within the southern part of the State, these outbreaks do not approach the levels seen in the northern portions of the State.

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