Ooops! Posited pine beetle to increased wildfire risk debunked by CU study

Barkbeetle damaged trees Credit: Colorado State Forest Service
Barkbeetle damaged trees Credit: Colorado State Forest Service

It has been posited by paid alarmists like Joe Romm that global warming will increase pine beetle outbreaks, thus increasing the chances of wildfire. For example, in April 2013 Romm wailed:

“…the mountain pine beetle, has already killed 70,000 square miles of trees — area the size of Washington state. As winters become milder, weather becomes drier and higher elevations become warmer, bark beetles are able to thrive and extend their ranges northward. An increase in some species of bark beetle can actually increase the risk of forest fires in areas affected by the beetle — the study notes an outbreak of the mountain pine bark beetle, which attacks and kills live trees, created a “perfect storm” in 2006 in Washington, where affected lodgepole pines burned “with exceptionally high intensity.”

From the University of Colorado at Boulder:

Study: Western forests decimated by pine beetles not more likely to burn

Western U.S. forests killed by the mountain pine beetle epidemic are no more at risk to burn than healthy Western forests, according to new findings by the University of Colorado Boulder that fly in the face of both public perception and policy.

The CU-Boulder study authors looked at the three peak years of Western wildfires since 2002, using maps produced by federal land management agencies. The researchers superimposed maps of areas burned in the West in 2006, 2007 and 2012 on maps of areas identified as infested by mountain pine beetles.

The area of forests burned during those three years combined were responsible for 46 percent of the total area burned in the West from 2002 to 2013.

“The bottom line is that forests infested by the mountain pine beetle are not more likely to burn at a regional scale,” said CU-Boulder postdoctoral researcher Sarah Hart, lead study author. “We found that alterations in the forest infested by the mountain pine beetle are not as important in fires as overriding drivers like climate and topography.”

A paper on the subject is being published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was funded by the Wilburforce Foundation and the National Science Foundation. The Wilburforce Foundation is a private, philanthropic group that funds conservation science in the Western U.S. and western Canada.

Co-authors on the new study include CU-Boulder Research Scientist Tania Schoennagel of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, CU-Boulder geography Professor Thomas Veblen and CU-Boulder doctoral student Teresa Chapman.

The impetus for the study was in part the severe and extensive native bark beetle outbreaks in response to warming temperatures and drought over the past 15 years that have caused dramatic tree mortality from Alaska to the American Southwest, said Hart. Mountain pine beetles killed more than 24,700 square miles of forest across the Western U.S. in that time period, an area nearly as large as Lake Superior.

“The question was still out there about whether bark beetle outbreaks really have affected subsequent fires,” Hart said. “We wanted to take a broad-scale, top-down approach and look at all of the fires across the Western U.S. and see the emergent effects of bark beetle kill on fires.”

Previous studies examining the effect of bark beetles on wildfire activity have been much smaller in scale, assessing the impact of the insects on one or only a few fires, said Hart. This is the first study to look at trends from multiple years across the entire Western U.S. While several of the small studies indicated bark beetle activity was not a significant factor, some computer modeling studies conclude the opposite.

The CU-Boulder team used ground, airplane and satellite data from the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to produce maps of both beetle infestation and the extent of wildfire burns across the West.

The two factors that appear to play the most important roles in larger Western forest fires include climate change — temperatures in the West have risen by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970 as a result of increasing greenhouse gases — and a prolonged Western drought, which has been ongoing since 2002.

“What we are seeing in this study is that at broad scales, fire does not necessarily follow mountain pine beetles,” said Schoennagel. “It’s well known, however, that fire does follow drought.”

The 2014 Farm Bill allocated $200 million to reduce the risk of insect outbreak, disease and subsequent wildfire across roughly 70,000 square miles of National Forest land in the West, said Hart. “We believe the government needs to be smart about how these funds are spent based on what the science is telling us,” she said. “If the money is spent on increasing the safety of firefighters, for example, or protecting homes at risk of burning from forest fires, we think that makes sense.”

Firefighting in forests that have been killed by mountain pine beetles will continue to be a big challenge, said Schoennagel. But thinning such forests in an attempt to mitigate the chance of burning is probably not an effective strategy.

“I think what is really powerful about our study is its broad scale,” said Hart. “It is pretty conclusive that we are not seeing an increase in areas burned even as we see an increase in the mountain pine beetle outbreaks,” she said.

“These results refute the assumption that increased bark beetle activity has increased area burned,” wrote the researchers in PNAS. “Therefore, policy discussions should focus on societal adaptation to the effect of the underlying drivers: warmer temperatures and increased drought.”


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March 24, 2015 1:24 am

To avoid confusion with University of California, University of Colorado is abbreviated CU

March 24, 2015 1:37 am

Surely, it must be Even Worse Than We Thought (TM) isn’t it?

Reply to  Admad
March 24, 2015 2:31 am

No Admad No…….It’s worse.

Joel O’Bryan
March 24, 2015 1:57 am

Like polar bears, this area of changing weather patterns is ripe for cherrypicking. People love the pictures of polar bears and going to the zoo to see them as very few see them in their native Arctic habitat.
Many also, like me love going to Western forest land for hiking and recreation, so we don’t like the idea of destruction either by fire or beetle. This is what makes emotional appeals like Joe Romm’s work. Aggressive fire control in Western forestlands of the past century, as opposed simply to fire management, has left our western forestlands vulnerable with high undergrowth fuel levels and weakened trees. But if one really thinks about it and understands that natural cycles exist in these ecosystems, that fires and beetles have probably always played a role in forest growth, plus now the trees have more CO2 to breathe. It is simply time to stop the alarmist nonsense of “climate change.”

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
March 24, 2015 3:23 am

Absolutely right, check out “Ancient Clues from a Frozen Forest”
“Péwé said the frozen forest at Eva Creek thrived at a time that was up to 5 degrees Celsius warmer than it is today, when there was little-to-no permafrost.
Because the frozen forest is full of charred trees, Péwé suspects there were a lot of forest fires 125,000 years ago. Insect galleries carved into the bark of some of the frozen spruce indicate that the spruce bark beetle was also here then.”

Reply to  dennisambler
March 24, 2015 12:25 pm

Very interesting link. Thanks!
I’m a geologist, with some glaciology background. The non-glaciated temperatures during glaciated times can be quite high due to katamatic winds coming down off glacial masses, and the fact that glacial masses move well into non-glacial areas before the front melting rate equals the advance rate (due to gravitational/plasticity thinning of thick ice).
I’ve travelled the alleged ice-free corridor to the Arctic Ocean (Beringia) and seen good evidence of at least minimal ice cover. Glacial striations on isolated outcrops, fluvial gravels on elevated ground. The history of the world is more complex than any of us can recognize with our limited historical human record. The permafrost ice-wedges excavated along the Dempster Highway in the Northwest Territories of Canada is >650,000 years old, going back through more than one glacial advance and retreat. The idea that a couple of degrees of global warming will melt the permafrost to bedrock is foolish to any geologist with a touch of knowledge about geological signs of the last million years.
At some time I’ll be in Alaska. I’ll try to get to this place.

Reply to  dennisambler
March 25, 2015 10:41 am

Thanks Dennis. There was a study done in BC a few years ago during the height of the beetle attack throughout the province. Cores taken from lakes in the Kootenay mountain ranges showed that this happening time and again over thousands of years. Mother Nature just cleaning up I suppose. I wish kids were taught he true life cycle of everything on this planet ( this includes civilizations)

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
March 24, 2015 5:08 am

The thing that bugs me is: I have property in both Nebraska and the Houston area and I have lost all of my pine trees recently to the Pine Beatle on both locations.
I am sure there is more than 7 degrees F difference in the annual climate of both locations.

David A
Reply to  Dipchip
March 24, 2015 12:08 pm

Pine Beetles thrive where natural or forced control burns do not take place.

Reply to  Dipchip
March 26, 2015 1:32 am

The 2 main pine beetles, Ipps and RMP will not harm healthy trees as they are pushed out by sap when they attempt to burrow into a healthy tree. Warm weather does not harm pine trees although very cold weather will kill overwintering beetles. The continuing drought in the SW and old stands of weak timber does contribute to infestation.
The main cause of beetle infestation is and continues to be suppression of forest fires. Suppression will obviously continue as forest fires are not (always) compatible with multiple forest uses. How is this solved? The short answer is it won’t be. Pine, spruce and fir will continue to die, get burned and be replaced by Aspen (among others) and eventually those Conifers will replace those. The cycle of nature in the montane West.

Reply to  Dipchip
March 27, 2015 12:20 am

Florida is not cold and Florida has a lot of Pine trees. More during hot wet interglacials than during cold dry times (when it shifts to more oak…) Pine are not harmed by heat. Also, I thought warming ws supposed to be increasing ocean evaporation to cause more precipitation and snow. How can they say hot and dry for tree issues? We need to force them to pick one precipitation scenario…

March 24, 2015 2:06 am

we mustn’t lose the battle against the continued use of the “fact” statement that almost every MSN article I read these days has included which goes something like “in a warming world” or “as a result of increasing greenhouse gasses”
We’ve got to continually nail their asses that these sentances are not supported in fact.

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  AleaJactaEst
March 24, 2015 2:33 am

They simply tie two half truths together to make an (il)logical inferential leap.
1. you cant really deny that over the past 150 years that temps have gone up.
2. you can’t really deny that atmpheric pCO2 has increased.
But by tying them together with either an implied or explicit causality arrow 2. —> 1. they hope to achieve government control of the economic engine and harvest the wealth for ideological purposes. If you object to their effort, then they simply look at you and smugly ask which of 1. or 2. do you not believe, because the data does show it. It is that science illiteracy that they are able to enlist such mental midgets as Hollywood stars to promote “climate change.”

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
March 24, 2015 6:50 am

I am not sure the quality of the temperature record supports the first point. Between falsified data, questionable proxy studies, and blatant manipulation, the best we can say is temperature has been variable over the last 150 years. It has clearly been warmer (1930’s) and cooler (1970’s) than our current conditions and satellite data is exposing the shenanigans.

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
March 24, 2015 12:27 pm

Whether it is warming or cooling always depends upon what slice of time you are talking about. That’s why statements that begin with, “In a warming/cooling world….” are always subject to challenge. As I understand it, things have been cooling since the beginning of the Holocene.

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
March 24, 2015 2:29 pm

Bingo – it’s NOT a “slam dunk” that there has been warming. It’s probably true, if only due to the recovery from the LIA which we do NOT understand the mechanism of! Imagine that… billions of dollars in “climate” money, and we still don’t even understand the driver of the most recent major climate changes… except that it wasn’t CO2.
Also, better check that claim about CO2 levels. Again, it’s possible that they have increased, but there are also chemically determined CO2 levels that are higher than today from that earlier time.

Winnipeg Boy
Reply to  AleaJactaEst
March 24, 2015 10:42 am

from NewsWeek 12/10/12 “By 2050, scientists project, the world’s leading wheat belts—the U.S. and Canadian Midwest, northern China, India, Russia, and Australia—on average will experience, every other year, a hotter summer than the hottest summer now on record. Wheat production in that period could decline between 23 and 27 percent, reports the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), unless swift action is taken to limit temperature rise and develop crop varieties that can tolerate a hotter world.”
Since then: record wheat production in 2013, Record producton in 2014. I guess we are due.
By 2050 – what a croc.

Reply to  Winnipeg Boy
March 24, 2015 2:44 pm

I suspect that wheat will be just fine, however I would caution farmers to resist the temptation to grow a crop better suited to a hotter climate. Its too variable to be predictable. We’ve had some success here in Manitoba with new crop yields which are typically meant for hotter areas…and then the last two winters happened.

Reply to  Winnipeg Boy
March 27, 2015 12:23 am

Wheat grows in Arizona. IFF temps ever regularly go over 125 F in Canada, we can start to worry about wheat…

March 24, 2015 2:15 am

The Pine Beetle epidemic peaked in 2005 in British Columbia :

March 24, 2015 3:03 am

“The bottom line is that forests infested by the mountain pine beetle are not more likely to burn at a regional scale,” said CU-Boulder postdoctoral researcher Sarah Hart

Sarah Hart better get her head on straight or she won’t be getting a cushy gig as a college professor, or US Forest Service government employee.

March 24, 2015 3:03 am

Could well be that beetle are naturally controlled by the fires – which we keep putting out!

March 24, 2015 3:28 am

The Park Warden in the Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies told me 10 years ago that they are now working overtime to remove all pine trees from the forests. (Lodgepole Pine proliferate there because of the altitude, btw.) Reason? The boiling temperature of the sap.
The Warden said the boiling temperature of the sap was around 66C in the trunk. This causes the trunks to explode during a minor fire, and shoot their embers 1/4 to 1/2 mile away, proliferating quickly across an area. Minor fires are mostly caused by careless visitors; the rest by lightning. He called the ground cover that rings the pine trees “gasoline,” and said that their job as responsible stewards of the forest was to take the forest floor “down to the dirt,” just as they discovered in 2001 that the Indians had done over 100 years ago, in addition to culling the pine over huge sections of the national park on a regular basis. The Indians actually documented this.
This method of forest management is completely new for the [Canadian] national parks–they were 1000% tree-nazis before then–and was only put in place in the last 12-13 years in response to the huge forest fires that destroyed millions of acres across western North America during the late 90s, and early aughts.
The Warden who talked to me viewed pine trees as more dangerous to the health of the forest than any insect, and warned me (in general) never to allow a pine tree within 20 feet of my house unless I had a metal roof.

Reply to  policycritic
March 24, 2015 3:44 am

Another thing: for the first time in the national park history, they called lumber companies everywhere and told them they could take all the pine they wanted from the Canadian Rockies for free. “C’mon down!” was the battlecry. The Warden liked Douglas Fir and a spruce I can’t remember the name of. My Canadian friends in Alberta said the national parks attitude change was stunning to them. Apparently, you could go to jail before then for touching a tree.

Reply to  policycritic
March 24, 2015 2:32 pm

Blue Spruce?

Reply to  policycritic
March 25, 2015 11:50 am

Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii), not Colorado (Picea pungens). And, not all Colorado spruce are blue. Most are not, but the horticulture trade has made a fine living from blue selections.

Reply to  policycritic
March 24, 2015 9:19 am

We went camping last summer in a high forest in Utah. The entire campsite was buried in ~2 inches of dry pine needles. We used some of the pine needles to help get our fire started, and it was like throwing gasoline onto the fire. If that forest caught on fire, it would be an inferno of epic proportions.

Don K
March 24, 2015 4:19 am

FWIW, 24700 square miles is a lot closer to the area of Lake Ontario (23000 sq mi) than Lake Superior (31700 sq mi). I assume that the rest of the article is equally precise.

March 24, 2015 4:38 am

“The impetus for the study was in part the severe and extensive native bark beetle outbreaks in response to warming temperatures and drought over the past 15 years that have caused dramatic tree mortality from Alaska to the American Southwest, said Hart.”
False. Bark beetles have no chance against healthy trees. DROUGHT is the problem. “Outbreaks in response to warming temperatures” is ignorant of biology.

Reply to  Gamecock
March 24, 2015 7:24 am

Warmer winter temperatures are also a factor. There is considerable evidence indicating that larval mortality is positively related to winter temperatures. Thus, as temperatures increase outbreaks become larger and more frequent. In addition, during major outbreaks, even healthy trees can succumb- but you are right, drought is also a factor influencing susceptibility and warming temperatures increase drought risk. So global warming is a double whammy when it comes to bark beetle outbreaks.
From Bentz et al. 2010 Bioscience
“We used available population models and climate forecasts to explore the responses of two eruptive bark beetle species. Based on projected warming, increases in thermal regimes conducive to population success are predicted for Dendroctonus rufipennis (Kirby) and Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins, although there is considerable spatial and temporal variability. These predictions from population models suggest a movement of temperature suitability to higher latitudes and elevations and identify regions with a high potential for bark beetle outbreaks and associated tree mortality in the coming century.”

Reply to  Luke
March 24, 2015 10:53 am

Pine beetles are ubiquitous. Winter range is irrelevant. Weak trees will be attacked by the beetles. Period.

Reply to  Luke
March 27, 2015 12:31 am

Warming, we are told, causes more evaporation from oceans and more precipitation ( That warm snow in Boston…) so your claim of warm drought is against current AGW dogma… Please wait for summer to use warm with dry at the approved time…

Reply to  Gamecock
March 25, 2015 12:00 pm

While drought clearly is important, the key culprit is gross mismanagement of federal forests in the west. Our tax dollars and timber resources are being pi$$ed down a rat hole by the USDA Forest Service and BLM. However, they also have a helping hand from Congress, which in 1980 passed the monstrously bad Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), which forces the American taxpayers to fund the lawsuits filed ad nauseum by whacko “environmentalist” NGO’s, shutting down timber harvesting in the federal forests.
If you want a handle on the scope of the problem, the US federal government controls essentially 50% of all land starting at Colorado and proceeding to the west coast. They do a spectacularly bad job of land and forest management, the forests grow older, more decrepit and fire and insect prone, and the rural residents having the bad luck to live in counties dominated by federal forests get screwed.

March 24, 2015 5:01 am

If the Pine Beetles learn to read, they will destroy the forests even faster.
That will be petrified by the stuff they read about global warming/carbon dioxide/sky falling/seas rising/etc, etc, etc.
It would be an epidemic right up there with that created by the Liverpool Beatles.

March 24, 2015 5:29 am

Jeesh, stop w/the pine-beetle/CAGW crap. As the pic shows, mono-stands of lodgepole pines, which are the result of forestry and fire-suppression practices, invite & promote the attacks.

David A
Reply to  beng1
March 24, 2015 12:10 pm

Bingo. Combine that with natural droughts, and you have what is seen in areas. Your SUV need not apply, except that CO2 allowed the trees to remain healthier in the drought.

March 24, 2015 5:46 am

It does not seem to be mentioned anywhere above, but a few weeks of subzero temps are what kills the beetles. It needs to get into the -20°F range. Or at least that is what I have heard for the past forty+ years in Colorado. We just need the polar vortex skewed a little west every few decades.

Tom in Denver
Reply to  skeohane
March 24, 2015 7:13 am

Skeohane, that is another CAGW myth that has been thoroughly debunked. The Pine Beetles have thrived much farther north than Colorado where temps regularly fall to the alleged kill range for weeks, Yet they still exist.
Forest Fires kill and control the beetles. It is the suppression of fires and the replanting of ‘lodge-pole only’ forests that have proliferated the beetles. Up on Hoosier Pass we have no lodge-poles and no pine beetles.

A C Osborn
March 24, 2015 6:03 am

Perhaps they should have looked at the history of Major US Forest Fires and tried correlating with CO2.
No one mentions the lack of undergrowth management and current lack of the larger Tanker Aircraft due to budget cuts making the situation worse of course.

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
March 24, 2015 6:19 am

The Romm article claims 70,000 sq. mi.; the CU study says 24,700 sq. mi. over the past 15 years (~1,650 sq. mi. per year). If you follow the references in the Romm article, the 70,000 claim comes from this 2013 Climate Central article by Michael D. Lemonick which contains no source for the figure nor a definite time period over which the destruction took place (but in context implies it was “over the past decade”). The Lemonick article links to this 2012 Climate Central article by Michael Kodas, OnEarth Magazine for support. The Kodas piece in turn links to this 2011 US Forest Service report to substantiate the claim:

Colorado, already facing the most destructive wildfire season in state history, has 3.3 million acres of beetle-killed forests to worry about.

But the USFS report actually says:

• For all pine species (lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, limber pine, whitebark, and bristlecone), mountain pine beetle has affected 3.3 million acres in Colorado, 3.3 million acres in Wyoming and 389,000 acres in South Dakota.
• The epidemic has slowed down in many areas of Colorado and Wyoming as the availability of large pine trees to attack has been depleted.
• The mountain pine beetle affected area in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming expanded by 140,000 acres in Colorado and 68,000 acres in southern Wyoming and has affected 4.2 million acres since 1996.
• In Colorado, mountain pine beetle was active on 752,000 acres in 2011 and 275,000 of that was in ponderosa pine. This activity in ponderosa pine occurred primarily in the northern Front Range Counties of Larimer with 254,000 acres and Boulder with 18,000 acres.
• In Wyoming, mountain pine beetle was active on 719,000 acres and epidemics expanded onto 167,000 previously uninfested acres statewide. Pine forests on the Bighorn National Forest showed the lowest levels of mountain pine beetle activity in Wyoming’s National Forests.
• Mountain pine beetle activity in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming increased from 22,000 acres to 44,000 acres to 67,000 over the last three years.

(Emphasis added)
Note that Colorado forest acreage identified as “beetle affected” in the USFS report has become “beetle-killed” in the Kodas piece.
The Lemonick article claims:

The conifer forests of the North American west have been under a massive assault over the past decade by bark beetles: one species alone, the mountain pine beetle, has killed more than 70,000 square miles’ worth of trees …

but provides no source for that figure. Curiously, that happens to be the same area which was addressed by the 2014 Farm Bill according to Sara Hart (one of the CU study authors):

The 2014 Farm Bill allocated $200 million to reduce the risk of insect outbreak, disease and subsequent wildfire across roughly 70,000 square miles of National Forest land in the West, said Hart.

Note again that an area identified as “at risk” for insect outbreak appears to have been transmuted into an area “destroyed” by pine beetles. Both Kodas and Lemonick promote “damage” into “destruction”, and Romm didn’t check.
I did not look into the CU study to determine the source of the 24,700 sq. mi. figure.
No doubt there will now be additional repeats of the 70,000 sq. mi. figure, with links to the Romm article as evidence.
Before we get into the argument of whether pine beetle destruction is on the increase and why, it really ought to be a requirement to get the actual area and time period nailed done more narrowly than the almost factor of three difference in these two figures.

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
Reply to  Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
March 24, 2015 6:22 am

I messed up the blockquote close above after “The Lemonick article claims:”. There should be a close blockquote after the first block ending in “70,00 square miles worth of trees”.

D.J. Hawkins
Reply to  Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
March 24, 2015 10:49 am

Even at 3.3 million acres, that’s only about 5,100 square miles. Total for the USFS report would be 10,920 square miles, plus or minus.

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
Reply to  D.J. Hawkins
March 24, 2015 1:43 pm

Thanks D.J.; I didn’t even run the acres/sq. mi. comparisons, although clearly I should have. I also did not check to see if there was a more recent USFS report than the 2011 one which appears to be the source for all the reports. Probably there is; this seems to be an annual or bi-annual survey.

Reply to  Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
March 24, 2015 12:54 pm

Thank you for this source sleuthing, Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7. It’s annoying that we have to do this to verify stats. Where is Romm’s editor? I thought he worked for an org with full financing.

March 24, 2015 6:52 am

I dunno. I have lost several pine trees in my yard, with pine bark beetle presence undeniable. You know, little piles of sawdust accumulating at the base. But I was told by the tree experts that the beetles don’t kill healthy trees, and infest only those which are stressed…eg, by drought. Is this true?

Reply to  JimB
March 24, 2015 8:01 am

A truism stretched into a falsehood.
Healthy pine trees are able to defend themselves, within reason. All the pine beetles need are entry to the cambium layer; cracked bark, broken branches, animal rubs, bear claws even woodpeckers.
What a drought does do is stress weaker trees, often limiting their pine sap defenses. This allows pine beetles to enter fresh forest areas by infesting weaker tree(s).
Over crowded trees is just as bad, if not more common, than drought. Pine trees often cluster seed an area, causing the young trees to compete as they grow. As the weaker trees die out, they become beetle center infestations.
Once the infestation is local, any injury to the remaining trees is an opening for infestation.
The East coast also gets pine beetle infestations. I’ve been losing Virginia pines to the bark beetles since the mid 1990s. I only have a few pines left and I view it as part of the aging cycle as large oaks, poplars and beeches grow into the canopy openings.
The mid 1990s did bring a minor drought to the mid Atlantic states and that is all the beetles needed for entrance.
For anyone that reads Colorado authors, you might have read brief stories about how they came to live in Colorado; i.e. they came to cut down dead pine trees killed by the pine beetles during the 1950s and 1960s. Pine beetle infestations causing large expanses of pine trees to die off is not unusual nor unprecedented.
Plant hardwoods, sequoias and maybe some pinion and sugar pines. I love pinion nuts and have photos showing a squirrel stealing my pinions as I harvested them from sugar pine, pine cones. Well, to confess, I had collected the pine cones that the squirrels cut down that morning. Rather mean of me to watch a squirrel descend a tree looking for his fresh pine cone and then going back up to cut down another; repeat…

Reply to  JimB
March 24, 2015 8:02 am

No, it’s not true, although there are circumstances where it appears to be true.
Old and decadent trees are more vulnerable and juvenile trees are almost impervious but large, vigorous adult trees succumb in enormous numbers.
When assessing beetle attacked trees we looked at the characteristic bubbles of resin that are exuded by the tree when a beetle tries to make its way into the cambium of the tree. The bubbles are about the diameter of a fingernail and are known as pitch tubes if the beetle was successful and pitch-outs if the sap-flow flushed the beetle out. A pitch tube has a visible tunnel drilled through the middle of it by the insect and little piles of frass (sawdust) stuck to it. A pitch-out is an intact ball of resin.
Attacks begin at the base of the tree and, as more beetles arrive, the pitch tubes appear higher and higher up the tree. This occurs over a few days.
No doubt, older trees are more heavily hit but even just a few successful entries doom the tree because of the fungus that the beetles import.

David A
Reply to  mebbe
March 24, 2015 12:14 pm

CO2 helps a tree stay healthier in droughts. As there has been no increase in droughts, CO2 is beneficial.

Reply to  mebbe
March 24, 2015 3:11 pm

The fungus may doom the tree or it may not. I’ve seen countless pines survive attack. It is also possible to cut an attacking beetle out of the bark. You will want to cut out the entire gallery and make sure the beetle goes with it.

Reply to  JimB
March 24, 2015 3:06 pm

It depends on whether or not the beetles mass attack the tree. If a healthy tree contains a few beetles, than there is little to be concerned with, you will notice a healthy tree will pitch out the beetle, the pitch out looks kind of like a fleshy tube, about the length of your finger tip. Also, stressed trees will demonstrate they are stressed via reddening needles, if you check the side of the tree that shows red you may find the source of the stress, from there you may find bore frass. If you have a mass attack, you can expect the surrounding trees to be at risk in the near future. You will want to cut the mass attacked tree down, buck up the infected wood and burn it to ash before the beetles fly out looking for another host.

Reply to  owenvsthegenius
March 25, 2015 7:29 pm

Thanks, folks. Next time I will try to cut out the d*mn things instead of having the tree cut down. I think the trees in my yard are lodgepole pines; they are very tall and are self-pruning.

March 24, 2015 6:53 am

— temperatures in the West have risen by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970 as a result of increasing greenhouse gases —
at the same time temperatures have decreased in the east by the same amount. also due to CO2? or because of a change in the multi-decadal ocean circulation, NAO/PDO?
the problem is when you approach a problem with an assumption in mind, you blind yourself to other possibilities.

Reply to  ferdberple
March 24, 2015 7:12 am

I was going to quote the same thing. It is obviously a spurious statement of the same type we’ve seen again and again. Fill in the blank and ignore stupidity is what these people are doing.
———- as a result of increasing greenhouse gases.
No more snow as a result of increasing greenhouse gases.
Lots more snow as a result of increasing greenhouse gases.
Never getting cold again, (another fill in the blank-this pest or that pest) will increase as a result of increasing greenhouse gases.
Unusual cold snaps as a result of increasing greenhouse gases.
Or is it all just…… Increased display of stupidity because of AGW flood of money supporting any stupid study supporting the AGW-climate change disaster meme.

Reply to  Tim
March 24, 2015 9:17 am

And from the skeptic side, we get these reasons:
No more snow – a result of natural variation.
Lots more snow – a result of natural variation.
Not getting cold anymore – natural variation.
Unusual cold snaps – natural variation.
Regardless of the rate of temperature change, severity of drought or flood – natural variation.

Reply to  Chris
March 24, 2015 9:49 am

No more snow – a result of natural variation.
Lots more snow – a result of natural variation.
Not getting cold anymore – natural variation.
Unusual cold snaps – natural variation.
Regardless of the rate of temperature change, severity of drought or flood – natural variation.

Yes. Because all of these natural variations have occurred before CO2 began rising.

Reply to  Tim
March 24, 2015 5:28 pm

“Chris March 24, 2015 at 9:17 am
And from the skeptic side, we get these reasons:
No more snow – a result of natural variation.
Lots more snow – a result of natural variation.
Not getting cold anymore – natural variation.
Unusual cold snaps – natural variation…”

Well, DUH! What goes up, comes down. What comes down, goes up.
It is called cyclical and the cycles of weather have been tracked for a very long time.

“Chris March 24, 2015 at 9:17 am

Regardless of the rate of temperature change, severity of drought or flood – natural variation.

Do we hear hysteria?
It is time that you read actual historical weather reports!
The rate of temperature change was faster during the 1930s!
Severity of droughts, both regional and worldwide, have decreased the last few decades!
Severity nor frequency of floods, both regional and worldwide, have not increased the last few centuries!
With 4.5 billion years and many epochs, there is virtually nothing in the way of weather or climate that is unprecedented! The moment some alarmist uses the word ‘unprecedented’ or the words ‘robust’ or consensus, they’re not scientists nor speaking for science.

James Strom
Reply to  ferdberple
March 24, 2015 3:30 pm

I had the same statement in my sights as well. The specialties of these scientists are not well identified but the main author may be a geographer. In any case specialties in botany or forestry would also be likely, and so no particular expertise in climate is implied. It would be simpler and more honest just to say that the temperature has risen two degrees, leaving it to other specialists to figure out why.

Paul Westhaver
March 24, 2015 7:28 am

This subject is perfect for GlynnMohr of Skywall.
He knows everything about the Pine Beetle.

March 24, 2015 7:33 am

I noticed no one has addressed another important item mentioned in this article.
“The two factors that appear to play the most important roles in larger Western forest fires include climate change — temperatures in the West have risen by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970 as a result of increasing greenhouse gases — and a prolonged Western drought, which has been ongoing since 2002.”
Other studies have questioned the link between beetle killed trees and forest fires but the link between warming temperatures and forest fires undeniable.

Reply to  Luke
March 24, 2015 8:55 am

Wrong conclusion, Luke
Ecoloons have prevailed to drive out multiple use, No logging, no livestock, no thins. The forests have become choked with undergrowth and Smoky the Bear has prevented all fires that might clean things up. For the last 50 years fast growing, short lived pines have been favored as replants. “Warming” has nothing to do with stupid management learned in college. In my forest I limit pines and favor other species in a mixed forest. The neighbors have pine beetle caused die off. I have no longer such problem. pg

Reply to  p.g.sharrow
March 24, 2015 10:46 am

You are right that fire suppression has increased fuel loads in some areas but there is still a strong positive relationship between spring and summer temperatures and fire severity so fire suppression does not explain all of the increase in fire extent and severity we have seen in the past few decades.

Reply to  p.g.sharrow
March 24, 2015 5:42 pm

Nice claim. Now provide clear evidence for the “…strong positive relationship…”.
Fire suppression, under the guise of “Smoky the bear”, created huge swaths of woods loaded with high downed wood and deadwood burdens.
Not only are the fire hazards extreme but when the woods do finally burn, the fires kill the trees and sometimes sterilize the soils. Prior to the “Smoky the bear” campaign, fires were quick and low temperature as they burned small accumulations of downed wood. Regrowth was extremely rapid.
In a land where temperatures range from very low temperatures to hot temperatures, not only winter through summer, but also daily during the seasons when a thirty to forty degree temperature change is normal, just what difference does a mere two degrees make?

Reply to  Luke
March 24, 2015 3:15 pm

No. Temp does not cause fires…rather it is an issue of moisture content and fuel content.

Crispin in Waterloo
March 24, 2015 7:47 am

“…temperatures in the West have risen by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970 as a result of increasing greenhouse gases…”
The text omits the natural component of that rise. Two degrees F would require a 50% increase in CO2 (approx) and that has not happened since 1970. This alone shows there is a natural element.

Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo
March 24, 2015 10:51 am

Your units are off. Models predict that a doubling of CO2 will result in about a 2 degree C increase in global temperatures, not 2 degrees F. Also, the warming will not be uniform across the planet, temperatures in the arctic are increasing as 2 times the rate of the rest of the globe.

Reply to  Luke
March 24, 2015 5:50 pm

Are you sure someone is home?
A 50% increase in CO2 is not a doubling; though in the world of CAGW math, I’m not surprised.
With a .6 to .85 increase in temperature (actual observations) since the 1870s, where are your Arctic temperature charts proving the doubling the temps?

Julian Williams in Wales
March 24, 2015 7:52 am

“Paid Alarmist” – this is a good pairing of words that should be used more often and made part of the landscape of the debate about CAGW. It is the sort of phrase that will reach deep into the minds of readers.

Dave in Canmore
March 24, 2015 7:53 am

I’ve had the pleasure of working in the Canadian boreal forest for 25 years. All it takes to create the conditions for massive forest fires is hot, dry winds. They can turn a moist, low risk forest into a tinderbox in just a couple day regardless of whether it has pine beetle problems or not.
I was evacuated from a large fire in northern Alberta in 2011 which destroyed the town of Slave Lake. The usual suspects were trying to blame the large fire on “climate change” but the area received above normal snowfall that winter and just dried out in a mater of days due to a dry, southerly, hundred kilometer an hour wind that turned the forest into a pile of matches.
The loss of property is sad but at least the forest cycle starts anew. The boreal forest is a disturbance based ecosystem with most species evolved to take advantage of abrupt changes in the forest at many scales whether it is a single old tree falling over or a hundred thousand hectare fire. For some reason, environmentalists seem to view the forest as having species evolved to a static environment. I put this ignorance down to city folks with anthropocentric thinking that they take in with them in their rare visits to the natural world.

Reply to  Dave in Canmore
March 24, 2015 8:27 am

Hi from the other side of the rocks.
Me, too. Decades in the woods of BC and I concur.

Reply to  mebbe
March 24, 2015 10:55 am

Generally amazing how much prejudice is carried into the woods to bias observation. Most those educated under the new “environmentalist” paradigm seem to expect the planet to evolve into a series of metastable “climax communities” and then just STOP in a nirvana like state of perfect balance and feedback (provided,of course, that man doesn’t interfere). “Green” heaven does have room for human beings!

Reply to  mebbe
March 24, 2015 10:57 am

Green Heaven does NOT have room for human beings!!!

Reply to  Dave in Canmore
March 24, 2015 3:22 pm

Dave, well said. Although poor forest management such as allowing a trees to become tightly clustered and prone to blow down, lack of brushing, planting monocrop will all elevate the probability of fires.

March 24, 2015 8:52 am
Reply to  Max Photon
March 24, 2015 2:05 pm

Or what the heck lets blame it on the Germans:

Reply to  Alx
March 24, 2015 3:54 pm

Well, if you stick the engine in the back . . . . .

Reply to  Alx
March 24, 2015 7:20 pm

So that’s where it was!! I looked everywhere for the damn thing and finally concluded it didn’t have one since it produced no heat and couldn’t go up-hill without drafting a semi.

Brian R
March 24, 2015 9:12 am

One thing most people don’t take into account when talking about pine beetles is the age of the forest. Most of the pine trees in the west were cut down in the very late 1800’s and through the mid 1900’s. This means that most of the trees were planted just 60 to about 100 years ago. Pine beetles attack older trees. And since most of the forests contain trees that are in getting along in age, the pine beetles have more trees to attack.

March 24, 2015 9:42 am

From Luke above:
There is considerable evidence indicating that larval mortality is positively related to winter temperatures.
No there isn’t. Cite your “considerable” sources.
Pine beetles are found wherever there are pine trees — from Central America to the boreal forests. Winter temps vary hugely across that range, yet larva survive every year in all climatic zones. Winter temps have nothing to do with beetle outbreaks.
Nor do beetles cause fires; in fact just the opposite. Defoliation from beetle attack reduces fire hazard by removing fine fuels from the canopy. However fires themselves leave scorched trees vulnerable to beetle infestations and subsequent outbreaks.
All recent pine beetle outbreaks in CO and elsewhere followed major fires (such as the Hayman Fire, 2002, 138,000 acres).
Those who attribute forest fires to “climate change” would benefit by realizing that forest fuels are biological. Fuels grow and accumulate every year. There is more forest biomass today than 50 years ago — due entirely to photosynthesis.
Indeed, forest fuels are today at levels never before seen in the Holocene. That is because for the last 12,000 years human beings have been managing the biomass by annual burning. The invasive Euros killed most of the prior residents, declared the killing fields to be “wilderness”, and ended all stewardship. Hence runaway growth, unprecedented biomass accumulation, and unprecedented fires.
Abandoning our forests to “Mother Nature” assures eventual destruction of those forests.

Reply to  Mike Dubrasich
March 24, 2015 10:41 am

Mike Dubrasich,
I agree.
I killed a lot of dendroctonus ponderosae in the 1980’s and early ’90’s at the behest of the BC government and I apologize to everyone that we did not prevent the outbreak, which started, notably, in the northernmost parts of the beetle’s range and spread into milder regions later.
The story of needing winters below -40 is just like the 97% consensus; make it up as you go along and morph it when it doesn’t seem to work out. Now, the line is that it’s all about temperatures at the time of mating flights.
I guess we can expect outbreaks in Mexico when it finally warms up there.

Reply to  mebbe
March 24, 2015 1:11 pm

Pine beetles have a natural resistance to low temps. Really, to control their population we need to let the affected areas burn and rejuvenate. The seedling which come up after a fire will be food for deer, moose, birds, etc. Topping the seedlings helps to thin the pines out as they grow.

Reply to  Mike Dubrasich
March 24, 2015 3:22 pm

Here are just a few
1. Bentz, B. “Climate Change and Bark Beetles of the Western United States and Canada: Direct and Indirect Effects.” Bioscience 60.8 (2010): 602-613.
2. Preisler, Haiganoush K. “Climate and weather influences on spatial temporal patterns of mountain pine beetle populations in Washington and Oregon.” Ecology 93.11 (2012): 2421-2434.
3. Jewett, Jeffrey T. “Spatiotemporal Relationships between Climate and Whitebark Pine Mortality in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.” Forest Science 57.4 (2011): 320-335.
4. Nelson, W. “Connecting host physiology to host resistance in the conifer-bark beetle system.” Theoretical Ecology 1.3 (2008): 163-177.
6. Bjorklund, N. “Climate change and range expansion of an aggressive bark beetle: evidence of higher beetle reproduction in naive host tree populations.” The Journal of applied ecology 47.5 (2010): 1036-1043.
7. Bohlmann, C. “Interactions of Grosmannia clavigera, a tree pathogen associated with mountain pine beetle, with lodgepole pine defense metabolites.” Canadian journal of plant pathology 31.1 (2009): 135-135.
8. Raffa, K. “Cross-scale drivers of natural disturbances prone to anthropogenic amplification: The dynamics of bark beetle eruptions.” Bioscience 58.6 (2008): 501-517.
9. H. Aukema, B. “Movement of outbreak populations of mountain pine beetle: influences of spatiotemporal patterns and climate.” Ecography 31.3 (2008): 348-358.

empire sentry
Reply to  Luke
March 24, 2015 3:37 pm

we are having weeble beetle outbreaks in North Texas. They are destroying the red oak, pin oak, post oaks. Out of 20 trees, we lost 16. They apparently do not care what temp it is.
I can:
1. Wait 100 years until the green crusaders finish their stuff
2. Spray for weeble beetle outbreak and kill them now.

Reply to  Mike Dubrasich
March 24, 2015 3:26 pm

Beetle kill areas=tinderbox.

March 24, 2015 10:01 am

The primary cause for the pine beetle outbreak was the park services earlier policy of fighting all fires.
As a result fires no longer periodically thinned the forests. The resulting over crowding stressed the trees and made all of them vulnerable to the pine beetle.
I would suspect that the fact that CO2 makes trees stronger and healthier would result in less pine beetle infestations in future years.

James at 48
Reply to  MarkW
March 24, 2015 10:18 am

Great minds think alike … LOL!

James at 48
March 24, 2015 10:17 am

I thought the reason for the pine beetle fiasco was that our “management” (e.g. wildfire “zero tolerance”) for 100 years has given the grazers (like beetles) a windfall. Population boom has ensued. And that’s all she wrote.

Reply to  James at 48
March 24, 2015 12:31 pm

You are correct.

DD More
March 24, 2015 11:30 am

This is the first study to look at trends from multiple years across the entire Western U.S. While several of the small studies indicated bark beetle activity was not a significant factor, some computer modeling studies conclude the opposite.
Try , some computers programmed by dogmatic modelers without study conclude the opposite
study authors looked at the three peak years of Western wildfires since 2002, using maps produced by federal land management agencies. The researchers superimposed maps of areas burned in the West in 2006, 2007 and 2012 on maps of areas identified as infested by mountain pine beetles.
temperatures in the West have risen by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970 as a result of increasing greenhouse gases — and a prolonged Western drought, which has been ongoing since 2002.

Looking at fires from 2002 & temperatures 1970?? What was the temperature difference 2002 to 2012.
“We believe the government needs to be smart about how these funds are spent based on what the science is telling us,” she said. “If the money is spent on increasing the safety of firefighters, for example, or protecting homes at risk of burning from forest fires, we think that makes sense.”
Firefighting in forests that have been killed by mountain pine beetles will continue to be a big challenge, said Schoennagel. But thinning such forests in an attempt to mitigate the chance of burning is probably not an effective strategy.

Does any one else remember when the entire Forestry Department actually made a profit from managing this county’s forest resources? Let’s definitely not allow any one to cut down and use a tree, better to burn in place.

March 24, 2015 12:29 pm

I’ve surveyed and worked on a control unit dealing specifically with mountain pine beetle in Canada. Absolutely, beetle killed trees candle hot and fast. The fact that pine beetles are high in number says that the pone trees themselves are struggling, otherwise their natural defenses would mitigate the beetle attack somewhat. Beetle attack is a natural stage in the forest cycle, as are forest fires. Ironically, let the forest fires burn and we reduce the number of trees prone to a ballooning beetle population. What is not said often enough is that pine cones release their seeds in high heat, meaning new pine forests are made possible only after a fire. New pine forests are a hotbed for native animal and insect species, in some cases a sparse species will return and flourish in a new forest. Fire does not equal bad. Fire is a natural forest mechanism.

March 24, 2015 12:46 pm

I was an Acquisitions Forester for Boise Cascade Corporation in eastern Oregon in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and we were having massive infestations of the mountain pine beetle then, so it is nothing new. The primary problem regarding the mountain pine beetle has little to do with a tiny amount of warming and almost everything to do with the fact that our federal forest lands are greatly overstock in many areas. Since the late 1970s, environment groups, through court actions, essentially halted timber harvests on federal lands in the United States. Since that time, there have been virtually no timber harvests on federal lands. In the past 34 years, our forest inventory has continued to grow and we currently have 40% more standing timber than we did in 1950. However, without harvesting and applying silvicultural treatments such as thinning, and as a result of our prior fire suppression policies, the health of our forests has declined precipitously due to over-crowding and stagnation. This has led to massive insect infestations such as the mountain pine beetle, which created conditions ideal for the massive forest fires that we are seeing each summer. The health of our forest could be dramatically improved by thinning and selective partial cutting.
Ironically, while we have greatly reduced our timber harvests in the United States, we have not reduced our consumption of wood products. Last year, we imported $14,710,000,000 worth of lumber, up from $12,420,000,000 in 2012; a high percentage from Canada, but some from as far away as New Zealand and Finland. We preach a mantra regarding farm products of buying locally whenever possible. Should we not apply the same thought process to forest products as well?
Additionally, claiming that having millions of acres of dead, standing timber does not increase forest fire danger simply defies all logic and practical experience.

Reply to  drhealy
March 24, 2015 3:16 pm

drhealy: do you know if there are any studies showing fire rates of corporate managed forests versus Federally managed forests?

Reply to  aGrimm
March 24, 2015 4:13 pm

No I don’t. I left forestry in 1977 because it was a dying profession and haven’t followed that issue. However, the feds own about 75% of the forested land in the western U. S. so they are the dominant player. Weyerhaeuser owns a very large amount of acreage but mostly in the very western parts of Washington and Oregon that aren’t so prone to forest fires. Boise Cascade and others sold off there timberlands to limited partnership investment groups like Plum Creek that generally start logging fairly quickly and heavily to maximize their return and once logged, the fire potential drops to close to zero.
Sorry, this probably doesn’t help much.

Reply to  aGrimm
March 24, 2015 5:42 pm

drhealy: It does help. Thanks. My thought was that it might be an interesting comparison, but your response sounds like it would be more of an apples/oranges comparison therefore not worth pursuing as a serious question. Thus moving on to my next question in life, whatever that be. WUWT helps fulfill that addiction. : )

Reply to  aGrimm
March 25, 2015 12:12 pm

If you check the daily incident reports, when new fires are posted they always list upon what land ownership each fire was started. Very, very rarely do new fires get started on private, managed forests. Almost always, these large fires get their starts on public land, and usually federal.

March 24, 2015 12:50 pm

Even the worst fire does not DESTROY the land. Just allows for renewal. Most fire areas that I have see in the last 60 years just regrows with new vegetation. The old timers of the 1950s told me that the forests of the 1890swere “Park like” open with few thickets of brush and small trees. The Indians and later the settlers burned out the thickets in the late fall. Then the Government got involved and stopped all fires starting in the 1930s and by the late 1950s the massive wild fires began in the western states. As funding for fire prevention increased so did the size of the fires. Pine trees will attempt to grow far too thick for the land to support so as the stress increases they are killed by beetle infestation. GODs way to thin the local numbers of pines. The beetles are always there testing for weakened pines. pg

March 24, 2015 1:00 pm

The CU-Boulder study authors looked at the three peak years of Western wildfires since 2002,

What a novel Idea to look at historical data without the beetle and compare with the period with the beetle.
I thought the scientific method was make an isolated observation, then jump to wild conclusions and hope you get a mention in a NY Times article.
Science publicists are advising their scientist clients that since skeptics have officially been banned from the media for the anti-scientific heresy of rigorous, thoughtful analysis and debate, better to just stick to wild conclusions and conjecture to ensure your brand image growing.

Reply to  Alx
March 24, 2015 1:24 pm

Clearly the end game is to keep tacking “seemingly” destructive natural forces onto the warming hysteria. Like an above commenter said, pine beetle attack is nothing new, what is new is the emense effort we put into culling fires. And now the fires are somehow proof of AGW. The “consensus” deerly loves correlation without causal relation. Its annoying that I have to listen to news outlets attributing every change the world experiences to atmospheric carbon…oh here’s a good one. I was bandying with Christopher Keating months back, and his justification for using the diacusting term “denier” on his political opponents was to say that humans are dying every day relative to those innocents who dies each day at the hand of the Nazi regime. I accepted his appology

March 24, 2015 1:14 pm

If you take the railway up Pikes Peak you will pass an area where the guide will tell you you are seeing the still visible scars of a pine beetle infestation in the 1980s , if I remember correctly . I’ve only seen the beetle kill area along the I-70 corridor where it has distinct west and east boundaries . It does not extend south down here where winters are distinctly warmer — tho here at 2500m that means a 20c diurnal variation year round and an average -16c nighttime minimum in Dec-Jan . We do have endemic pine beetles killing the occasional tree , but no epidemic apparently since the one pointed out on the Pikes Peak tour . By watermelon logic , we should have it worse than up north .
But simply the range cited “from Alaska to the American Southwest” makes the idea that even a 1.1c change in Colorado temperature since the 1970s . With the massive increase in population almost everywhere in the state since then , I’m not sure where you would find stations not tainted by UHI effects .
With respect to forest fires , they suck . They are total bad news and the let it burn philosophy is next to criminal . There is a legend that some varieties of pines “like” fires because they pop their seeds . I think this feel good tale may have been foisted by a Scientific American article on the ecology of fire I remember from when I got the rag back in the ’60s . I don’t know where those magical species are , but they are apparently not competitive around here despite what would be an overwhelming advantage .
Here , it takes decades , plural , for the forests to recover . And the scars are massive and ugly . The waste is enormous .
Driving up CO 67 and 126 to take 285 down into Denver , half or more of the trip is thru now decade old burn scars . Here’s a view from Google Earth on which I’ve circled the Hayman fire in 2002 and outlined a earlier fire near Buffalo Creek which I just googled was in 1996 .
These areas continue to be bereft of trees or even seedlings . Here is a StreetView of about where the Hayman burn meets CO 67 about 15km north of us .
The area south of Buffalo Creek is just as naked .
I’ve started to notice that what regrowth is occurring is around isolated stands , some near ridge tops , which for one reason or another escaped total cremation . First the old trees slowly recover , then eventually the seeds they produce start enlarging the islands .
But we’re talking generational time spans here with NOTHING done by the US forest service to restore these lands . This neglect both before and after these disasters is one of the driving forces behind the movement for the western states to take back control of their lands from arrogant anti-reality WDC easterners .

Reply to  Bob Armstrong
March 24, 2015 1:38 pm

What you are omitting is that many of the barren areas that take decades to recover are angled and south facing. The summer sun does not allow seedling to take hold, I. Those areas the seedlings need help to get going. I’ve planted nearly a million pine trees myself, I’m an expert. And no fires are not wasteful. I’ve visited countless burn sites over the last 20 years and depending on the site, moisture content of the soil and shading present, the forests recover quickly and in good heath. There is nothing criminal about using a burn to the forests advantage. In fact burns are often used to cull massive fires. Burns are a tool of agriculture, and where trees are concerned, reclamation projects are often used to bring burnt wood to the marketplace. Yes some areas are difficult to reforest, but I’ve personally worked on one such site just outside of Kelowna BC, its highly specialized planting that gets the job done, and it does get the job done. Most pine species require heat to open their cones.

Reply to  owenvsthegenius
March 24, 2015 4:25 pm

Actually , while about half those burn zones are south facing it makes little difference as can be seen from the uniformity of the scars in the Google Earth view . And much of the burn area visible from 126 south of Buffalo Creek is relatively flat . Here’s a StreetView .
And that’s apparently since 1996 .
I don’t see how you can contend that those many thousand hectare scars are not wasteful . They are a blight on tourism if nothing else .
I’ll totally agree that replanting , particularly the frequently steep slopes is clearly difficult to get seedlings to take hold . Some of the steep south facing slopes never have thick cover . However I simply find it hard to believe that no 21st century solution to accelerating regrowth is not possible . It seems to me it would be feasible to spread tens of millions of seeds from the air . Even if only one in a thousand or fewer actually take root you would get some nuclei for regrowth where there continues to be none . I have often wondered if “ownership” rights to these wastelands were sold to commercial forestry corporations what they would do . I cannot believe that they would allow such potentially productive assets to remain fallow for decades .
I’m not talking about controlled burns and other ground debris clearing methods . They do that now quite aggressively in Pike Forest just north of us between here and to Hayman burn picture I posted . There are a few areas where I think they overcooked it and I’ll be interested to see if some of the base charred trees will recover , but at least they are being experimental and proactive .
Hot dry years like 2012 are downright scary . Here’s a picture from the local Safeway the first day of the Waldo Canyon fire : .
Given that experience , what I found unconscionable was the lack of preparedness the next year when , despite having C130s which can be ( and should have been proactively ) fitted with fire retardant dumping tanks sitting at Peterson AFB , it took 18 hours for the first aerial response to a fire which was originally reported when only 12 acres , and which consequentially destroyed more homes in the Black Forest than had been destroyed on the slopes of Colorado Springs by the Waldo Canyon fire .
Again , the mismanagement of local lands by the Federal government is a rapidly increasing irritation to the western states and is becoming a major political issue out here .
As an example , one of our Teller County commissioners told me that they had arranged with the coal fired power plant at the base of Ute Pass to mix all the forest debris they were cleaning out into their fuel mix . You would think this use of “biomass” would be welcomed , but the Feds regulated and red-taped into impracticality .

Bill Murphy
Reply to  owenvsthegenius
March 24, 2015 7:54 pm

Bob Armstrong:

… what I found unconscionable was the lack of preparedness the next year … it took 18 hours for the first aerial response to a fire which was originally reported when only 12 acres

As an “aerial response” pilot for most of 20 years, (air tankers, heavy and light) the stories I could tell!!! Bureaucratic incompetence, CYA, empire building, conflicting “standard procedures” all fertilized with a healthy dose of the peter principle. Add to that various Green lobbies, timber lobbies and tourist industry lobbies and one begins to wonder how we have any forest left at all.
To your point, it’s not at all uncommon for a “National Resource” such as an air tanker to sit for days on the ground during a death watch on a fire that is 100% contained and being mopped up, “Just in Case.” Meanwhile, new starts that could be stopped in their tracks by a single drop blow up and run thousands of acres.
On one occasion in the 90’s a friend was orbiting overhead a single tree burning from a lighting strike with 2400 gallons of retardant on board. He was denied permission to drop and reassigned elsewhere. That single tree grew to over 100,000 acres. I could overflow this thread with similar accounts.
On the lighter side, there’s the legend of “Geyser Bill” (a true story) when an air tanker pilot (not me!) dropped 2000 gallons on a steam plume from a geyser trickling up through the trees. He didn’t put it out…

Reply to  Bill Murphy
March 24, 2015 9:24 pm

I know . There must have been lots of crew sitting around Peterson frustrated as hell to not to be able to do anything about this conflagration metastasizing just 15 minutes flying time away . I actually think some private DC-10 or whatever was the first responder and nothing came from Peterson for 24 hours .
In the spring of 2012 , the Waldo Canyon year , which was extremely hot a dry , Teller county was “on pins and needles” and everybody had their eyes out for any possible starting fires . Something like 22 were actually spotted and stopped . We apparently had some insane arsonist .
The Hayman fire in 2002 was started by some Forest Service worker who apparently was pissed off at her boyfriend and started a fire to burn his letters . It roared from Lake George most of the way to Deckers in one day . The general feeling around here is that arson should be considered worse than attempted murder and those guilty get life .
We were in the cautionary evacuation zone for Waldo , but being somewhat west of it felt we had a good buffer . I was outside the evening the heat broke and I felt the first cool wind come from the west . But my immediate thought was that this was bad news for the Springs — as it turned out to be blowing the fire into the neighborhoods right up against the mountains .
The next week we had drenching rains . I took pictures of the water hole we have out back the week of the fire and about a week later . They are towards the bottom of .
Climate Change ‘ll get you .

Data Soong
March 24, 2015 1:32 pm

One important thing to note is that AFTER the pine beetles have decimated large areas of forests, there is a lot less pine needles in the forest canopy to fuel any wildfires. I regularly hike in areas that had been beetle infested, and I can say that a fire would have a much harder time burning through these areas where the are hardly any remaining big live trees. On the other hand, as many commenters have already pointed out occurs after wildfires, there is an abundance of new life springing up. These little saplings are much less likely to burn than old growth, sickly trees.

Reply to  Data Soong
March 24, 2015 4:31 pm

“…after wildfires, there is an abundance of new life springing up. ”
My images posted above show that is false .

Owen suppes
Reply to  Bob Armstrong
March 25, 2015 12:18 am

Bob, it’s true some areas are a challenge. The Kelowna fire sounds like a similar case to yours. In that case we hammered in Cedar shakes to shade the seedlings. Time consuming and very costly. that area will be decades in its recovery. Although a few wet years cous change everything. Also, the vast majority of burns recover on their own without any help from us.

john s
Reply to  Bob Armstrong
March 25, 2015 10:27 am

Your posts aside, as a fire climax ecosystem, all the forest burnt in the kelowna fire originated from past fire events. The pine beetle has always been an agent of forest renewal. Lodgepole pine typically burns or is killed by beetles. Preventing the former has definately led to more problems with the latter.

Reply to  john s
March 25, 2015 12:08 pm

I suspect your area in BC is both substantially wetter and lower altitude than here in the CO Front Range .
I also think there is great difference between beetle kill which leaves at least some young trees and ground cover and the literally scorched earth of these fires which clearly leave virtually no seed unburned . Old bare ATV tracks around some of our pines have mini park-lands of few baby pines emerging .
I moved out here from Manhattan in 2005 and kept looking for the first appearance of saplings . But even scrub growth was slow to reestablish itself , and after half a decade I started realizing that whatever our species are they are not the phoenix pines of urban legend .
Any hand replanting is extremely expensive , But I cannot believe some effective aerial method could not be developed . It’s easy to collect millions of pine cones and tear them into tens of millions of seeds and scattering them from the air after rain or snow-melt would at least nucleate some new growth . And now of course fertilizers , etc are commonly coated on seeds or made into little starter bundles with them .
Clearly further research is called for .

Reply to  Bob Armstrong
March 25, 2015 10:59 am

“The pine beetle has always been an agent of forest renewal.”
In a healthy forest ecosystem, that may be true. But in one with elevated temperatures and reduced rainfall, a far higher percentage of trees become weakened and die off, in which case the word decimation is more appropriate than renewal.

M E Wood
March 24, 2015 3:51 pm

Back in the 1960s we were taught that there was Fire Climax vegetation which allowed forest to spread into Post Glacial plains. The softwood trees were all old about the same time and burned naturally thus opening their previously dense canopy so that their prolific seedlings could grow on the fertile ashes of the old trees. I don’t know how the theory holds now, though.

March 24, 2015 5:47 pm
Dave O.
March 24, 2015 6:01 pm
“Mountain pine beetle is native to the Black Hills and has probably inhabited the Hills as long as there has been a pine forest. This insect, as with many other insects, goes through cycles where they become very abundant and then relatively rare. When the beetle population is very low only stressed or weakened trees, such as those struck by lightning, are colonized. However, about every ten years or so the beetle population increases and the beetles begin colonizing healthy as well as stressed trees. These outbreaks last for about five to 13 years after which the beetle population once again declines.
The first recorded outbreak in the Black Hills occurred in the late 1890s. An estimated 10 million trees were killed during this outbreak. Approximately five outbreaks have occurred since that time though none has reached the same magnitude”
If warming had anything to do with pine beetle outbreak, then the 1890s would have been warmer than now.

Bill Murphy
Reply to  Dave O.
March 24, 2015 10:18 pm

Almost precisely the same situation with the Eastern Spruce Budworm. Years to decades of minor infestation followed by a few years of extreme damage. As I recall, records of that go all the way back to the 18th century. Again with no obvious correlation to climate, at least the last I heard.

March 25, 2015 12:21 am

The pine beetles I’ve talked to say it bites that the bark tastes bad, but they’re warming to it. Good night. You’ve been a great crowd.

Paul Pierett
March 25, 2015 5:17 am

In the total picture, as the climate, not necessarily warms as much as people think it will, a few degrees will move topography further North and South of the Equator. Thus, forest will move north.
Too, there was over planting in these forests like the Black Hills during the Civilian job corps era of the Great Depression. Now, with urban growth, the water she’d is not large enough to support the number of trees planted 70 to 80 years ago.
The Pine Beetle is doing its job. It’s thinning the herd. Then the forest fires come. Then grasslands are left in there place until the next mini ice age or Ice Age.
Paul Pierett

john s
March 25, 2015 10:21 am

The mountain pine beetle was my first clue that AGW might be less than it was trumped up to be. When it was first postulated that the beetle outbreak was due to warmer temperatures I started paying attention. For one thing, warmer winters do not in themselves result in higher beetle populations. Beetle populations are controlled by unseasonably cold weather in the early winter or late spring, or by exceptionally cold weather in the winter for a prolonged period. For another, as someone who works in the district where the pine beetle outbreak originated I can tell you that the outbreak was due to a beetle population buildup in the mature forests of the chilcotin, Once the population built up in the provincial park there was no stopping it, even if the resources had existed in the chilcotin district. While a freak cold spell might have had an effect, a 1 degree warming trend clearly would not.
It was with some disappointment that i found my own professional organization promoting the AGW-beetle link, since it’s members, like myself clearly understood that it was untrue. And so a skeptical cynic was born.

March 25, 2015 12:44 pm

Very interesting – I’ll pass that on to some people in BC.
There are many factors in forest fires, including the effect of decades of suppression, the BC government was muttering about making firebreaks to protect communities.
(Most forest land in BC is owned by the government, in contrast to WA state. (The proportion of private ownership on Vancouver Island is higher due to land given to the CPR on building the “E&N” railway from Victoria to Courtenay.))
Even eco-nuts like the People’s State of Highlands (NW of Victoria BC) woke up to the realization that charging for permits to clear brush around houses could result in less clearing of “interface” areas that increase risk to houses.

March 26, 2015 4:26 am

How about a little common sense? 1) Dead trees burn better than live ones. 2) Pine beetles kill trees.
What fraction of trees need to be dead before there is a significantly increase risk of forest fire?

March 26, 2015 9:54 am

The main cause of beetle infestation is and continues to be suppression of forest fires.
That statement is utterly FALSE and WRONG. That is not how it works.
Fires CAUSE beetle outbreaks, not the reverse.
“Fire suppression” does not cause fires or beetles. That’s just another dysanthropic propaganda rant. You bozos who want forest fires to rage uncontained across millions of acres of America’s priceless heritage forests, farms, towns and cities are similar if not identical to Taliban terrorists.
I know you all are enamoured with Disneyesque pseudo-science, but gee whiz! Catch a clue! Human beings are NOT wrecking the planet or its myriad ecosystems. The green nazis want you to believe that, but its not true.
PS to Frank: live trees burn better than snags with no needles. Maybe not in your fireplace, but definitely outdoors on a dry day in the real world.

Reply to  Mike Dubrasich
March 26, 2015 11:57 am

Semi-Ditto .
I think the comments on the semi-periodic bursts in beetle populations is most reasonable . Quasi-periodic insect outbursts are well known . I grew up in North Shore Suburban Chicago and experienced the cycles of the cicada early on .
Fires don’t cause beetle outbreaks . As I have pointed out with StreetViews , after fires there is nothing left . And around here , it remains that way for decades . Wherever those Disney phoenix pines are , they are not around here .
The term tinder dry is all too accurate . In a hot dry year even a healthy pine forest is dangerously explosive . Once their needles have fallen , I’m sure a beetle killed area would be less so . I think that accounts for the lack of correlation .
Just a note on aspen : Where they decide to grow remains a mystery to me . We have some in our dale down by our well . That makes sense . It’s the wettest and most protected area . What’s remarkable is that any survive the deer debarking them as saplings to reach adulthood . The attrition is high .
They do come back in along the creeks and washes in the fire scars . But they don’t spread uphill .
What I can’t see any pattern to is the stands of aspen scattered along the flanks of Pikes Peak or along the road to Cripple Creek . It’s not obvious that there’s a difference in available water or sun . The stands just seem random .
Clearly there is need for further research .

Steve P
March 26, 2015 11:46 am

March 24, 2015 at 8:01 am

Healthy pine trees are able to defend themselves, within reason. All the pine beetles need are entry to the cambium layer; cracked bark, broken branches, animal rubs, bear claws even woodpeckers.

(my bold)
Thanks to ATheoK’s comment in passing, WUWT wasn’t completely skunked on this point.
Even woodpeckers…imagine that: birds eat insect pests. Who knew?

Steve P
Reply to  Steve P
March 26, 2015 11:48 am

Sorry for the flubbed bockquote tags; ATheok’s comment ends with the first paragraph immediately above.
March 24, 2015 at 8:01 am

Healthy pine trees are able to defend themselves, within reason. All the pine beetles need are entry to the cambium layer; cracked bark, broken branches, animal rubs, bear claws even woodpeckers.

(my bold)
Thanks to ATheoK’s comment in passing, WUWT wasn’t completely skunked on this point.
Even woodpeckers…imagine that: birds eat insect pests. Who knew?

Steve P
Reply to  Steve P
March 27, 2015 12:02 pm

Most piciform birds consume insects, some foraging in places (within bark) reached by no other birds. Thus, they are valuable in the control of insects, even helping to prevent the spread of tree diseases, such as Dutch elm disease, by destroying insect carriers.

Brittanica 2000 (EB)
This fact sheet from CSU ( D.A. Leatherman, I. Aguayo, and T.M. Mehall) recommends spraying infected trees, while noting that
“Chemical control options for MPB larvae have been greatly limited in recent years. At present, there are no labeled pesticides for use on MPB.” but goes on to describe several chemicals for application on infected trees:
“Certain formulations of carbaryl (Sevin and others) permethrin (Astro, Dragnet and others), and bifenthrin (Onyx) are registered for use to prevent attacks on individual trees. These sprays are applied to living green trees in early summer to kill or deter attacking beetles. This preventive spray is generally quite effective through one MPB flight (one year).”
“Natural controls of mountain pine beetle include woodpeckers and insects such as clerid beetles that feed on adults and larvae under the bark. However, during outbreaks these natural controls often fail to prevent additional attacks.”
No chance, I suppose, that the spraying is also depressing populations of potential predators of the MPB.
SPB not MPB, but interesting tidbits about the woodpeckers:

Woodpeckers do not actually eat all the SPB they remove from trees. Some of the larvae and pupae wriggle free from the bark and fall to the ground in dislodged bark chips (Fig. 9). Survival in dislodged bark is low for all seasons, ranging from 5 percent in winter to 23 percent in spring.
Woodpecker feeding or scaling of bark also indirectly increases SPB mortality. Thinning of bark exposes various life stages to adverse environmental conditions like excessive heat or low humidity. As a result, larvae escaping woodpecker predation may later die from dehydration or heat stress. Exposure of the inner bark surface also permits the early establishment of fungi and bacteria, some of which reduce bark beetle survival.
Woodpecker foraging favors predation and parasitism by such insects as clerid beetles and wasps. Clerid beetles, both as adults on the bark surface and larvae inside the bark, are well-known predators of SPB. Density of this predator increases in the bark remaining after woodpecker feeding. As the birds strip more and more bark, surviving clerid larvae seem to concentrate in the remaining bark. This increases the probability that an SPB will be consumed. In addition, bark thinning by woodpeckers makes SPB larvae more accessible to parasitic wasps. In East Texas, average within-tree insect predator densities and parasite densities were 38 to 87 percent more abundant, respectively, in bark remaining on trees after woodpecker foraging.
That’s all for now.

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