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Study: Bark Beetles Not to Blame for Catastrophic Wildfires

Bark Beetle
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service
Bark Beetle

A new study suggests that, contrary to conventional wisdom, bark beetles do not play a major role in large-scale wildfires in Colorado and other western regions.

The study, published this week in Natural Areas Journal says past and current research shows that mountain pine beetle infestations don’t actually boost the risk of intense, fast-moving blazes like last summer’s devastating High Park Fire.

Barry Noon is a professor of wildlife ecology at Colorado State University, and a coauthor of the study.

"In a way, that sounds a bit counterintuitive. Admittedly dead needles have greater potential for ignition – by lightning, let’s say – than green needles. But the dead needles remain on the trees typically for about two to three years. And the ignition potential only remains high as long as the dead needles are on the trees. Once they fall off, the ignition potential is actually quite low."

Noon says the real driving force behind last year’s intense wildfires is drought -- fueled by climate change. Because of that, he says efforts to remove beetle-killed trees may reduce the risk of small wildfires, but will do little or nothing to control the catastrophic fires that devastated Colorado forests last year.

As the host of KUNC’s new program and podcast In the NoCo, I work closely with our producers and reporters to bring context and diverse perspectives to the important issues of the day. Northern Colorado is such a diverse and growing region, brimming with history, culture, music, education, civic engagement, and amazing outdoor recreation. I love finding the stories and voices that reflect what makes NoCo such an extraordinary place to live.
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