Concerned Scientists Say Climate Warming Killing Forests in the Rockies

Rocky Mountain forests as we know them are in great peril, according to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, with many having already been substantially damaged by the triple threat of beetle kill, wildfire and heat-related drought.

The report presents new evidence that human-caused climate warming is driving those components of forest destruction.

The National Climate Assessment published earlier this year included similar material, particularly in its study of the American Southwest, in which Colorado is included, the nation’s hottest and driest region.

Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk

Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk

The new report hones in on the damaging impact of warming on forest ecosystems within a different geographic designation, the six Rocky Mountain states of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The prognosis in both reports is grim.

Iconic trees species including aspens, whitebark pines and pinon pines could disappear from much of their historical range if warming progresses unabated, the UCS report states. For example, more than 75 percent of the historical range for aspens in the Rockies is projected to become unsuitable for them in less than 50 years, given continued “medium-high” levels of heat-trapping emissions.

But much damage has already been done.

From 2000 to 2012, bark beetles killed trees on 46 million acres – an area just slightly smaller than Colorado,” the report states. “The U.S. Forest Service estimates that as many as 100,000 beetle-killed trees now fall to the ground every day in southern Wyoming and northern Colorado alone.”

The number of large wildfires has spiked in recent years, with four times as many fires burning nearly seven times as much total area. Wildfire seasons are stretching 2-3 months longer.

“Robust science offers strong evidence of what likely lies ahead for Rocky Mountain forests,” the report states, and that is much more of the same – more beetle kill, more frequent large, intense fires, more stress from heat and dryness.

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