Over the past decade a mountain pine beetle epidemic has exploded across America’s Mountain West, destroying more than 3.5 million acres of trees in Colorado and southeastern Wyoming alone.
It’s been speculated that dead lodgepole pines are prime fuel for wildfires. With the worst fire in Colorado history still raging in Boulder’s Fourmile Canyon, many may be wondering if the beetle scourge has made matters worse. Perhaps not.
Using satellite imagery and on the ground observations, ecologists from the University of Wisconsin compared maps of beetle-killed forest near Yellowstone National Park with maps of recent fires. Their preliminary analysis indicates that large fires do not appear to occur more frequently or with greater severity in beetle-damaged forest tracts. In some cases these areas may be less likely to burn.
Common sense suggests that green needles are harder to burn, but they actually contain high levels of flammable oils. Depending on weather conditions, dead needles may be less likely to catch and sustain a fire.Wildfires are also less likely to ignite and carry in a forest of dead trunks and decomposed needles.
“It’s easy to think it’s more damaged so more likely to burn,” says researcher Phil Townsend. “That’s why it’s important to ask questions and not take everything as gospel truth, but go out and see if what we think is happening in our mind is really happening on the ground.”
Full article at www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/beetles-fire.html
*Forest pic: Damage caused by the Mountain Pine Beetle in E. C. Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada. Shot by Jonhall, Wiki Commons.