Tag Archives: sierra nevada

[NEWS] The Surprising Science of Wildfires and Tree-Killing Beetles

– by Tara Lohan, September 14, 2016, KQED

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Photo: KQED

So far this year 4,636 wildfires in California have burned more than 200,000 acres. That’s more fires than this time last year and more fires than the five-year average. In fact, in the last few decades, the number of large fires are on the rise across the Western United States and the length of the fire season continues to expand.

There are some areas, particularly in parts of the southern Sierra Nevada, where up to 85 percent of the large trees are dead or dying.
One of the biggest reasons for this is warming temperatures, which are impacting snowpack and ushering in an earlier spring. California has an added challenge of dealing with a five-year drought. The drought and climate change have allowed bark beetles to get the upper hand in swathes of forest in the Sierra Nevada, creating what ecologists call “pulses” of tree mortality. To the average person it looks like a lot of red needles on dead trees.

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[NEWS] If a Tree Falls in the Forest, Should We Use It to Generate Electricity?

– by Meredith Fowlie, September 7, 2016, The Energy Collective

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Air curtain incinerator (Photo: Energy Collective)

Every summer vacation, we pack our tree-hugging family into the car and head for the Sierra Nevada mountains. In many respects, our trip this summer was just like any other year, complete with family bonding moments and awe-inspiring wilderness experiences:

But our 2016 photo album is not all happiness and light. This year, we saw an unprecedented number of stressed and dying trees. Forest roads were lined with piles of dead wood.

These pictures break a tree hugger’s heart. But they barely scratch the surface of what has been dubbed the worst epidemic of tree mortality in California’s modern history. According to CAL FIRE, over 66 million trees have died since 2010. And it’s not over yet.

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[OPINION] Wildfire: Thinning Forests for Biomass Energy Can Reduce Fire Severity

[Read the opposing view to this opinion piece, “Wildfire: Dead Trees Vital to Forests,” by ecologist George Wuerthner.]

– by John Buckley, Executive Director, Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center

Over 13 years as a firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service, I worked primarily on hotshot fire crews. During those years I fought a number of the largest wildfires ever documented in California as well as many other wildfires elsewhere across the West.

For years I taught wildland fire behavior classes, helped ignite and manage prescribed burn projects, and spent entire summer/fall seasons (between wildfires) doing post-fire restoration work in recently burned areas.

From that experience, I can emphasize that fuel loading, fuel arrangement, continuity of fuel, and fuel moisture combine with fire weather, topography, time of day, and other factors to determine fire intensity. Put simply, the more dry fuel that is packed on moderate to steep hillsides on a hot summer afternoon when there are up-slope or up-canyon winds, the higher the likelihood that a wildfire will make major runs that kill a large percentage of trees that might survive a lower intensity fire.

Strategically planned biomass removal projects can reduce that build-up of excessive fuel.

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