Western pine forests that have been devastated by pine beetles at least have one respite according to new research: They are not more likely to burn.
“We found that alterations in the forest infested by the mountain pine beetle are not as important in fires as overriding drivers like climate and topography,” said Sarah Hart, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado-Boulder and lead author of a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“The bottom line is that forests infested by the mountain pine beetle are not more likely to burn at a regional scale” [Joshua Rapp Learn, “Pine Beetle Infestations Won’t Spark More Flames: Study,” The Wildlife Society, 2015.03.24].
But what’s making wildfires worse? The stuff Republicans don’t want to study:
In fact, Schoennagel and her colleagues found that factors such as increasing temperatures due to climate change and drought that has gripped the U.S. Southwest since 2002 have led to more fires.
This finding has implications for the way government agencies spend money on forest thinning or other fire mitigation strategies, which Schoennagel said may not be an effective use of budgets.
“These results refute the assumption that increased bark beetle activity has increased area burned,” wrote the researchers in PNAS. “Therefore, policy discussions should focus on societal adaptation to the effect of the underlying drivers: warmer temperatures and increased drought” [Learn, 2015.03.24].
But it’s so darn much more fun to go out with our trucks and chain saws, knock down big timber, and fight evil arthropods than it is to change our own behavior, which actually puts the Hills at more risk of the danger we say we’re fighting.