Sunday, February 14, 2016

Spruce beetles are the next wave clearing forests, boosting water supplies

Spruce beetles have been working in the northern Black Hills for several decades likely moving on logging equipment from other western states.

More than one and a half million acres in Colorado have become habitat for the insect since the 1990s. Spruce beetle activity in Engelmann spruce was detected on 262,000 acres in Colorado and 76,000 acres in Wyoming in 2011. In 1996, spruce beetle affected 1.2 million acres in Colorado and Wyoming.
The Forest Service can’t attack the epidemic everywhere, so foresters have to decide where the need is most urgent, and where they can do the most good. To do that, the agency needs to correct decades of fire suppression have made for crowded conditions in the woods. "Part of the effort is to reduce some of the density of the forest," explained Roy Mask, assistant director of forest health protection. "Through time and the absence of fire we get a lot of undergrowth in those ponderosa pine dominated forest. So the initial effort there is to thin from below, to open those forests up, and then the ultimate goal would be to put fire back on to some of those landscapes and at the same time use some of that biomass that’s made available." [Colorado Public Radio]
The mountain pine beetle is hard at work clearing centuries of overgrowth throughout the Rocky Mountain Complex, so is the western spruce budworm. But leaving dead or dying conifers on the forest produces methane, an even more dangerous greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide is.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) supports seven regional integrated Coordinated Agricultural Projects (CAPs) that develop regional systems for the sustainable production of advanced biofuels and biobased products. The regional systems focus on non-food dedicated biomass feedstocks such as perennial grasses, sorghum, energy cane, oilseed crops, and woody biomass. Specifically, goals for this aspect of the operation include benchmarking the performance of equipment used to harvest, process, and deliver beetle-killed trees, and then optimize the logistics for site conditions, specific end uses, and facility locations. [USDA blog]
Forest and land managers have learned that fuel treatments where fire is introduced after mechanical harvest helps to restore forests where emerging aspen and other hardwoods add biodiversity necessary to healthy ecosystems while sequestering carbon.

As firefighting costs strain federal budgets removal of fuels in areas where roads already exist just makes sense.

An estimated 75 volunteer, career, U.S. Forest and South Dakota Wildland firefighters are currently managing burns in and around the Black Hills.

Millions of acres are being farmed for ethanol by burning diesel fuel. Logging is diesel fuel-intensive. Diesel can be distilled from wood waste ground in the landing processing some with mobile pyrolysis systems.

University of Montana entomologist, Diana Six has been studying the relationship of forests, fungi and bark beetles for decades. Her work outlines how insects are clearing clogged watersheds being decoupled by the Anthropocene.

I have hypothesized that antibiotics in cattle manure have disrupted and killed essential fungal communities in western forests.

Get cattle off the Black Hills National Forest, approximate historic habitat and make it part of the Greater Missouri Basin National Wildlife Refuge.

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