Record-Setting wildfires in Colorado are wreaking havoc on forests that have already been devastated by outbreaks of another kind. Infestations of beetles that burrow beneath tree bark and eventually kill their hosts.
The East troublesome fire was burning through an abundance of’beetle-killed’ pine trees. That fire grew to become the second largest fire in Colorado’s history. Three of the largest wildfires on record in the state have burned this year.
There’s growing evidence that beetles play a negligible role in the spread and severity of fires. Hotter, drier conditions are fueling wildfires and bark beetle infestations.
A professor at Clark university has studied the effects of bark beetles on wildfire behavior. The exact condition of the forest is going to matter less.
Beetles burrow beneath tree bark to lay their larvae, slowly killing the tree as they chew tunnels through it. Milder temperatures have allowed their numbers to grow for decades.
A drought in Colorado from 2001 to 2002 made things worse in the lodgepole pine forests. Healthy trees can make enough sticky resin to deter the invaders.
In Colorado and other Western states, bark beetles have left behind millions of acres of forest scarred with dead trees. That’s led to concern that all those dead trees make the perfect fuel for megafires. But the relationship between beetles, trees, and fires gets complex.
Lester recalls a joke from a friend:’forestry is n’t rocket science’.’it’s much more complicated,’ he says.
Crown fires race from treetop to treetop. When beetles attack, they dry out the trees’ needles, turning them red. There still is n’t scientific consensus on whether the dried up needles pose a greater fire risk while they’re still attached to the trees.
When needles fall, they become fuel along the forest floor and could ignite into a surface fire. Surface fires tend to be less devastating and easier to control, compared to crown fires.
Unpredictability can make wildfires more challenging to fight. Firefighters might need to deal with more downed trees in stretches of wood that beetles have decimated. They’ll be forced to switch up strategies based on whether they’re dealing with surface or crown fires.