Thursday, June 28, 2012

It's About Time Colorado Burned

Forests are burning in Colorado this summer. That should not come as a surprise to anyone who has spent much time in the forests and learning about the forests the last ten years. In fact, I'm surprised it has taken so long. Two things in the past have reached peak levels and I would expect more fires over the course of the next decade because of those things.

  1. Smokey the Bear (see the "Fire Ecology" section near the bottom) told us we could prevent forest fires. That is not true. We are good at postponing them, but prevention is a myth. For the last hundred years we have cherished our forests and watched them grow slower than paint dries. Now we have a lot of wood sitting around. More wood means when a crown fire (see "Fuel Type" section) starts there is more fuel to keep it going and resist efforts to stop it. Fires happen, wether it's every 20 years or 300 years, they happen. Forests often have an optimum density range beyond that most Western US forests dry up fast.
  2. As a consequence of the first reason the forests became very crowded. The Bark Pine Beetle (a native species, not introduced) infested millions of trees and killed most of them. In other words, if they trees are not cut down or burned, beetles will kill them. 
When you add those two contributing factors together you have the highest density of dead trees that has ever existed in the Western US in modern history. It's a bomb waiting to go off. 

This did not happen overnight either. Philmont Scout Ranch where I worked in 2005 and 2006 has been doing TSI, Timber Stand Improvement, and meadow encroaching since I started working there in 2005. For at least the last seven years they have been doing something to mitigate the risk of tragic losses. 

It is an interesting time, because I feel that we have the opportunity for a more positive forest management strategy going forward. It is also, hopefully, a one time opportunity for large amounts of bark pine beetle wood, which I think looks classy. Additionally, for people that have never visited a forest a few years after it burns, I highly encourage it. You will appreciate a mature forest more after the experience.

The next few decades promise to be interesting ones for the forests of the Western half of this country.

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