Climate Change Takes Toll on Lodgepole Pine

The most abundant of all Western pine falls at astounding rate-

Every Western pine from the Yukon to New Mexico is suffering high mortality from unusually severe attack by native insects, diseases and direct mortality from drought and heat. Lodgepole pine, which often grows in vast almost monocultural stands, is dying too.  Almost anyone who lives in the West knows this. In many places the beauty of the forest has been greatly marred for many miles.

Climate Change Takes Toll on the Lodgepole Pine. By John Collins Rudolf. New York Times.

When lodgepole pine dies, the needles first turn red for a year before they fall off.  While red, they burn with remarkable explosive force.  After they are dead, however, lodgepole and other dead conifers do not burn as fiercely as a green forest.  A common misconception is that they do, a mistake this New York Times article perpetuates. Lodgepole are shallow rooted.  When dead they are easily blown over in windstorms.  If they pile up in large “jackstrawed” heaps, these can burn very hot.  Miles of downed lodgepole also form barriers to wildlife migration.

I took this photo of red lodgepole pine near Stanley, Idaho about 5 years ago. Since then, they have almost all died and many fallen over or cut down. They didn’t burn.

Feds to consider endangered status for whitebark pine

Critical pine in grizzly nutrition is in steep decline. May get endangered listing-

Whitebark pine is in dire straights and it may well get on the endangered species list, but what then?  How do you save a tree so beset with disease and insect attacks with an ESA listing?

Story in the LA Times. Feds to consider endangered status for whitebark. By Mead Gruver. Associated Press Writer.

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I have been doing a lot of backcountry traveling this summer, and while I have written numerous posts about pine beetle attacks, not just the whitebark pine, almost all Western pines are in serious trouble, mostly from insect attacks. Winters too warm are causing vast proliferation of the pine bark beetle, killing pine forests, especially the much more abundant lodgepole pine from the Yukon south to New Mexico.  In some places like northern Colorado, 95% of the lodgepole is now dead.  It seems to me that it will be a short time until most pines will be functionally extinct, even though some may persist in highly protected enclosures.

Spruce, Douglas fir, true firs, and other conifers are not under such attack, but the lodgepole is a huge component of the fish, wildlife, watershed and scenery of the Rocky Mountains. Like the whitebark pine, it is hard to think of any effective large scale human effort to conserve these forests.

Bark beetle infested mountain at Lower Slide Lake, WY. Although the mountain looks fairly green, most of the lodgepole on it are turning red. In two or three years the entire character of the mountains will be changed. Copyright Ralph Maughan July 19, 2010