Soumya Karlamanla, LOS ANGELES TIMES
Call it a vicious cycle: drought, wildfires and bark beetles.
California’s historic drought stresses trees across the state, making them ideal prey for bark beetles. The insect infestations dry out vegetation further, creating forests that can light up like tinder. Fires then damage more trees, attracting more beetles, and turning more forests brown.
“So we all have to hope for rain,” said Tom Smith, park pest management specialist for the Central and Southern Sierra Region for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Bark beetles probably exacerbated the fire that ravaged Lake County over the weekend, he said. Experts called the Valley fire’s rapid spread unprecedented; the blaze, which began Saturday afternoon, grew to more than 40,000 acres in fewer than 12 hours.
“This last couple years has just been so extreme that everything’s under stress,” Smith said. “If we weren’t in the drought, we wouldn’t have so much bark beetle.”
He said there’s been heavy beetle activity in Lake County, and around Clear Lake, where the Valley fire is blazing. A U.S. Forest Service survey of the region in and around the Bay Area in June found that though tree mortality was increasing almost everywhere, the worst region by far was an area south of the lake.
UC Berkeley fire science professor Scott L. Stephens agreed that bark beetles in the area likely left dead trees ready to go up in flames. “There’s no doubt that’s going to enhance a fire,” he said.
He said that dead pine trees are much easier to catch on fire when they still have their needles, and they don’t lose them until a year after beetles kill them. Though pines that have been dead for years aren’t quick to ignite, the recently killed ones are standing fuel, he said.
Read more at: Meet the insect that helped fuel Northern California’s Valley fire destruction – LA Times
Chad T. Hanson and Dominick A. Dellasala, THE NEW YORK TIMES
In the fall of 2013, shortly after fire swept across 257,000 acres of forest and shrub lands near Yosemite National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada, Republicans in the House of Representatives approved a bill that would have suspended environmental laws to increase logging in our national forests in the name of fire prevention and “restoration.”
Fortunately, the legislation never made it out of Congress. But it is fire season again in the West and, predictably, House Republicans have struck again, passing a similar measure, almost entirely along party lines, that all but gives away public forests to logging companies. A similar bill promoted by three Western Republicans is now before the Senate.
Just as they did in 2013, supporters of this legislation are using the public’s fear of forest fires to advance their agenda. They argue that overgrown and “unhealthy” forests raise the risk of wildfires, and that the government has been hampered by litigation and environmental reviews from allowing timber companies to thin forests to reduce the risk of fire.
Accordingly, this legislation would allow more logging on federal lands, including clear cutting, by exempting some logging from environmental reviews entirely, limiting oversight in other cases and making it much more difficult to challenge harmful logging projects in court.
The legislation is rooted in falsehoods and misconceptions.Some of the bill’s supporters claim that environmental laws regulating commercial logging have led to more intense fires. But, as we saw in the 2013 fire near Yosemite, known as the Rim Fire and one of the largest in California history, commercial logging and the clear-cutting of forests do not reduce fire intensity.
Read more at: More Logging Won’t Stop Wildfires – The New York Times
Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Thousands of trees in North Coast forests are dying, apparent victims of more than three years of drought and the bark-boring pests that flourish when water is scarce.
The dead and dying trees, mostly pines, are adding flammable fuel to forests where the fire risk is already high because of California’s prolonged drought. The dead wood won’t cause more fires, but once ignited, flames will burn hotter and be much more difficult to control, posing potential danger for rural residents and firefighters, fire officials say.
“It increases the intensity of the fire,” said Jim Wright, a Cal Fire division chief in Lake County, where most of the area’s dead trees have been found. “It’s just like starting a fire in your fireplace. It’s much easier to get a fire started when you have dry wood than green wood.”
The tree deaths are part of a larger, statewide problem that has ravaged the southern Sierra, where more than 10 million pine trees in national forests have perished. More than 12 million trees have died in national forests statewide in the past year because of drought and pests, according to U.S. Forest Service aerial surveys. Similar problems decimated pine forests in Colorado several years ago.
“Statewide, it’s horrific,” said Greg Giusti, forest adviser with the UC Davis Cooperative Extension. Statistics for state and privately owned forests were not available, but Giusti estimates the tree deaths in Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties to be in the tens of thousands.
Read more at: Ravaged by drought and bugs, North Coast forests | The Press Democrat