How Lodgepole Pines Protect Their Kind Against Fire, Mountain Pine Beetles Infestation

As mountain pine beetles march across the forests of western North America, these insects may kill millions of pine trees during a single outbreak. A rise in overall temperatures over the past several years has increased the range of mountain pine beetles, resulting in an epidemic and possibly making this mountain pine beetle infestation the largest forest-insect blight to occur in North America.

Dr. Francois Teste and colleagues from the University of Alberta in Canada have been investigating the effect of mountain pine beetle outbreaks on lodgepole pines in British Columbia. Teste and colleagues have discovered that seeds from cones on the forest floor may provide a viable seed bank for lodgepole pine regeneration following forest destruction by mountain pine beetles. Their research is published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Botany.

Lodgepole pines, a variety of the pine species Pinus contorta, are a serotinous species -- the seeds are only released from the cones in response to specific environmental conditions, in this case fire, rather than at the time of seed maturation. The seed bank of lodgepole pines is found in closed cones, which generally are located in the canopy. Following a mountain pine beetle outbreak, dead trees with canopy cones may remain standing for 10 to 15 years. However, scientists have observed a considerable increase in closed cones on the forest floor due to an increase in branch breakage after tree death. The viability of these canopy and forest-floor seeds and the likelihood that they will be able to contribute to forest regeneration has not been known.


Massive Canadian fires linked with beetles, climate change

Wildfires in Canada have burned 909 percent more than the average number of acres this year, mainly due to a number of blazes in northern Alberta that have been described as “freakish firestorms” by forestry officials.

Some scientists in Canada are conjecturing that the unusually large fires are linked with global warming and the pine beetle infestation that has spread through millions of acres of boreal forests.

According to the Canadian Forest Service‘s latest wildfire update, about 490,000 acres have burned, with 980 fires burning this week, well above the average number. More than half the fire burning are in Alberta; in most other parts of Canada the fire activity is described as light.
Fire danger remains low in British Columbia due to moist conditions, but is rated as high across big parts of Alberta, where a province-wide fire ban is in effect. With little precipitation in the forecast, the fire danger is expected to increase in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.


More and More, the Boreal Will Burn

Wildfires ripping through Alberta's boreal forest or what government officials call "freakish" firestorms are really a snapshot of how warming global temperatures and intensified insect infestations will change the nation's boreal forest, say scientists.

In the last week nearly 100 wildfires, battled by 1,000 forest fighters, have shut in billions of dollars worth of oil and gas facilities and forced the evacuation of 2,000 oil workers from Fort McMurray to Peace River.

One raging inferno, driven by 100 kilometre winds, destroyed a third of the community of Slave Lake north of Edmonton. That smoky region is also chock full of dead trees killed by the mountain pine beetle, another harbinger of changing global weather patterns.


Web-based marketing, wave of the future

Coun. Bill Hadden is keen about a new marketing program called the Bridges Project, and it's something he believes is the wave of the future for small tenure owners.

He notes it's an initiative of the province's three Beetle Action Committees, the British Columbia Community Forest Association, the Federation of BC Woodlot Associations, and Community Futures.

It will be a web-based marketing tool for community forests and woodlots owners to connect log sales with local saw millers.

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Trees killed by Pine Beetles create more dangerous fires

In areas where many trees have been killed by pine beetle infestations, forest fires can spread more quickly, new research says. The dead trees are much drier than live wood, as are the red needles. The way fire behaves in areas struck by pine beetles, such as much of British Columbia and Montana, is changing dramatically in a short time.

The trees essentially become standing fuel, and, just as anyone who has ever started a campfire knows, dry wood burns faster than wet. Though this fact may seem obvious, researchers stress that they need to better understand how the trees burn to create more effective fire management plans, especially since the mountain pine beetle's territory seems to be spreading east. They also need to understand how the percentage of live and dead trees may affect the behavior of wildfires, to develop more specialized plans.

Flames from beetle-struck trees can reach 200 to 300 feet, and fires can spread to three acres in roughly two minutes--or over 100 acres in an hour--according to fire analyst Sonny Stiger, says Eve Byron in the Helena Independent Record. One ember from a dead tree can travel a quarter mile, and if it hits another dead tree is likely to ignite it, says forest service ecologist Matt Jolly, writes Matt Volz in an Associated Press article. Fire fighters must also deal with more large trees snapping above them, potentially blocking escape routes.


Firefighters warn new fires burn in mysterious ways

Fire officials in a tri-county area said they’re seeing extreme fire behavior in areas with trees killed by the mountain pine beetle.

Sonny Stiger, a fire behavior analyst, told a group gathered in Helena Wednesday for a forum on the impact of the rice-size beetles, that he’s seeing flame lengths of 200 to 300 feet in places they wouldn’t expect it; they’re experiencing unusual embers being thrown farther ahead of fires and groups of treetops torching; and ponderosa pines’ low-hanging dead branches are creating ladder fuels that allow blazes to spread more rapidly than in the past.

“The kind of things we’re dealing with is one fire grew to three acres in two minutes, 10 to 15 acres in the next eight minutes — that’s moving — and over 100 acres in the first hour,” Stiger said. “So we are experiencing unusual, extreme fire behavior now.”


Knowledge gaps abound in beetle-kill forest fires

Researchers are taking the first steps toward closing wide knowledge gaps in the behavior of wildfires in millions of acres of Western forests devastated by the mountain pine beetle epidemic, a University of Idaho professor said Wednesday.

Over the past decade, the rice-sized beetle has decimated some 9 million acres of forest in the Rocky Mountain West and nearly five times that in Canada. But there is relatively little scientific research into how fire behavior changes in forests with beetle-killed trees, particularly in stands where there is a mix of live and dead trees.

Research has been slow in developing because of the difficulty to conduct fire experiments in forests near populated areas, said professor Jeffrey Hicke. There also are disagreements between existing studies because they often failed to consider the same criteria, he said.


New study shows beetle-killed trees ignite faster

The red needles of a tree killed in a mountain pine beetle attack can ignite up to three times faster than the green needles of a healthy tree, new research into the pine beetle epidemic has found.

The findings by U.S. Forest Service ecologist Matt Jolly are being used by fellow ecologist Russ Parsons to develop a new model that will eventually aid firefighters who battle blazes in the tens of millions of acres from Canada to Colorado where forest canopies have turned from green to red from the beetle outbreak.

The new model incorporates a level of detail and physics that doesn't exist in current models, and it is much more advanced in predicting how a wildfire in a beetle-ravaged region will behave, Parsons said.