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Harris-Mann Climatology Article Archive

Title: Dead Forests Can Lead To Widespread Megafires

Author: Climatologist Cliff Harris
Published: 7/28/2014

As I stated in a ‘Gems’ column written 3 years ago on August 1, 2011, millions of acres of lodgepole and ponderosa pines in the western U.S., Canada and Alaska are being killed by literally billions of tiny bark beetles, wood-eating ‘monsters.’

Scientists at the National Atmospheric Research Center in Boulder, Colorado believe that the impact of dead or dying forests may actually be changing rainfall patterns, especially across the Intermountain regions from Washington State, where this month they’ve seen the worse wildfires in recorded history southward through Oregon and drought-parched California and eastward through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

Changes in tree and plant populations likewise are suspected in raising temperatures as cloudcover levels and rainfall amounts diminish leading to drought and these ‘MEGAFIRES’ of historic proportions.

Live trees, healthy ones that is, absorb carbon dioxide from atmosphere. Dead trees, by extreme contrast, give off carbon dioxide as they decompose. This, of course, has a drastic effect, at least in a given area, on the climate.

As Alex Guenther, a National Atmospheric Research Center scientist, says, "Forests help control the atmosphere. There is a big difference between the impacts of a live, healthy forest and a dead one."

The main reason for the enormous beetle infestation in the western U.S. and elsewhere is the uniformity in age of the region’s forests which, in many cases, haven’t been allowed to burn for much of the last century. Forest fires are nature’s way of controlling bark beetles and other infestations.

The result is that, in some regions, the death rate of lodgepole pines has approached 100 percent. This "kindling effect" in the forests has led to a record number of large-sized ‘megafires’ in the past several years.

Some forestry scientists with the U.S. Forest Service believe that this bark beetle will reach as far east as the Great Lakes in the coming decades. The loss of habitat for the forest animal life could be "devastating."

Most forestry experts recommend cutting down any tree with even "a smattering of yellow" that will eventually turn to a "rust color" and finally a "dead brown."