Beetles to blame for Colorado's fires? Blame climate change instead

Tiny, winged bark beetles have been the ecological bad guys of the West for more than a decade, and rightfully so. They've killed off millions of acres' worth of trees in Colorado. Now all those dead trees are feeding the flames across tens of thousands of acres in the southern part of the state.

The West Fork Complex fire raging through southwest Colorado has already burned through more than 75,000 acres, including wide stretches of tinder-dry trees hit by beetle damage. With 600 people evacuated from homes, and nearly 900 firefighters on the scene, it is considered to be the worst fire to hit the Rio Grande National Forest.

Fire crews don't expect to make much progress on containing the inferno — actually three lightning-sparked blazes that have joined together — until they get some rain and cooler temperatures. That's a grim outlook, made grimmer by the droughts and summer heat that scientists have linked to global climate change.


B.C. must find ways to reduce risk of wildfire hazards

E.C. Manning Provincial Park is a ticking time bomb and one of these years it’s going to go off.

Once over Allison Pass, the effect of the mountain pine beetle infestation that has resulted in the death of a large proportion of the mature lodgepole pine in the park becomes readily apparent.

In the decade since the epidemic began, many of the trees killed by the beetle have fallen to the forest floor. The post-beetle forest now presents a significant wildfire threat: very large accumulation of fuels on the forest floor; fuels staying dryer longer because they are not in contact with soil or grass; the forest floor receives much more direct sunlight resulting in higher temperatures and lower relative humidity; and, fewer trees means higher winds at the level of the forest floor drying out the fuels.


Invasion of the Beetles, and a Rancher’s Revenge

FOUR years ago, the trees on Larry Lipson’s property in western Montana began to die. Not just one or two, but 10,000 of them. The culprit was the mountain pine beetle, which has ravaged 23 million acres of forests in the United States since 2000.

With his father and stepmother, Dave and Nadine Lipson, he owns 37,000 acres that include a cattle ranch, a resort and a 10-mile stretch of the Blackfoot River, other parts of which were featured in the 1992 film “A River Runs Through It.” The infestation had the potential to ruin their business, which banks on the area’s scenic beauty.

“Having a resort in Montana with no trees is a big problem,” Mr. Lipson says. So rather than watch the bugs turn the land into a tinderbox for wildfires, the Lipsons decided to take steps to stop the beetles in their tracks. In the process, they found a way to turn their ravaged wood into something useful: a material for making accessories for Apple products. Their story offers lessons in adapting when an environmental crisis hits and, more broadly, how to be resilient in the face of adversity.


Pine beetle attack easing in Central Okanagan

It would appear that the worst of the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic in the Central Okanagan is over, although the devastating pests are not completely gone.

Blair Stewart, with urban forestry for the City of Kelowna, says he’s hopeful that all the city’s efforts to clean up trees before the first flight of beetles every year has helped to ease the pressure locally from the province-wide epidemic.

The province’s forest health technician in this area for the ministry of forest operations, Heather Rice, agrees that generally, the Mountain Pine Beetle has moved through the Central Okanagan and is moving into new stands of pines in the south this year.


Researchers, loggers battle with pine beetle in Alberta

On the front lines of Alberta's war against the mountain pine beetle, the weapons are chainsaws and biological data.

The soldiers in this battle focus their attention only on areas in which they have a good chance of preventing the beetles from spreading - the so-called Level 1 control sites where forestry staff cut and burn infected trees. In other areas, staff simply monitor the beetle-infected trees each spring, using information from hundreds of sites to plan next winter's campaign and help companies log specific areas to control the beetle's spread.

The so-called pine islands south of Slave Lake - groves of pines surrounded by aspen - are among these areas that can't be saved, and that is where provincial forest health officer Dale Thomas and technician Jenn MacCormick were last week, cutting out "cookies" of bark and cambium layers from infected trees to count beetle larvae.


Stanley officials work to protect town from wildfires

Ben Forsgren knows what catastrophic wildfire looks like.

The owner of Jerry's Country Store watched as winds sent 200-foot flames through the crowns of beetle-killed lodgepole pine last August during the 182,000-acre Halstead Fire, which burned to within three miles of his store in Lower Stanley.

The fire that burned from July to October closed campgrounds, shut down Idaho 75 briefly and put a damper on Stanley's short summer tourism season.