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Research Confirms Beetles Contributing to US Wildfires

Blog Post created by ryan.quinn Employee on May 11, 2011

It’s as close as looking out your window. For those of us living in states like Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho, and including our neighbors as far north as Canada, what we once marveled at as the beauty of green, lush forests, has now turned an eerie, deathly red. Tens of millions of acres given over to the mountain pine beetle bent on destroying healthy forests. But did you know these red needles of a tree killed in a mountain pine beetle attack can ignite up to three times fast than the green needles of a healthy tree?

Mountain Pine Beetle According to US Forest Service ecologist Matt Jolly who recently published his new research findings,  beetle-killed trees can hold 10 times less moisture than live trees. This means dead trees ignite more quickly than live ones, and also burn more intensely, carrying embers farther.

What’s happening? A few things. Over time, pine beetles target trees weakened by forest management conditions and climate-induced changes. Old, densely packed pine forests allow beetle populations to expand beyond their natural habitat, and warmer summers and milder winters thwart nature's ability to contain the beetles. 

To help combat this problem, Jolly’s colleague, Russ Parsons, is developing a new, advanced model that he believes will provide the science needed to help inform fire management decisions when it comes to predicting how a wildfire in a beetle-ravaged region will behave. Their research was presented at a seminar in Helena last week sparking a continued debate over the issue. 

But what can we, as homeowners, do to keep us as safe as possible in the event of a wildland fire? The Firewise Communities Program offers tips and provides resources to help create your own plan of action.

If you live in an area infested by the mountain pine beetle, tell us how this crisis has impacted your way of life. What changes have you noticed? Is there a noticeable difference in the behavior of wildlife? In the ecosystem? We’d like to hear from you.

-Molly

(Photo taken from the Colorado State University/Colorado State Forest Service web site)

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