"Beetles Add New Dynamic to Forest Fire Control Efforts"

"DENVER -- Summer fire seasons in the great forests of the West have always hinged on elements of chance: a heat wave in August, a random lightning strike, a passing storm front that whips a small fire into an inferno or dampens it with cooling rain.

But tiny bark beetles, munching and killing pine trees by the millions from Colorado to Canada, are now increasingly adding their own new dynamic. As the height of summer fire season approaches, more than seven million acres of forest in the United States have been declared all but dead, throwing a swath of land bigger than Massachusetts into a kind of fire-cycle purgatory that forestry officials admit they do not yet have a good handle on for fire prediction or assessment.

Dead trees, depending on how recently they died, may be much more flammable than living trees, or slightly more flammable, or even for a certain period less flammable. The only certainties are that dead forests are growing in size and scale -- 22 million more acres are expected to die over the next 15 years -- and that foresters, like the fire-tower lookouts of old, are keeping their eyes peeled and their fingers crossed."

Kirk Johnson reports for the New York Times June 27, 2009.

Monday, June 29, 2009