Wildfires, Pine Beetles and CAGW/Climate Change Part 1

UPDATE: See end of article for the update

With the recent wildfire in Colorado I knew it would be just a matter of time before someone would attempt to tie it into “Climate Change” or for the more brave/honest CAGW. Why did I believe this? Because the supporters of the CAGW religion have tried to tie every wildfire to it, remember back in July and the Russian wildfires. Back then they used the “Moscow/Russian Heat Wave” as the excuse for the raging wildfire and that heat wave was due to climate change/CAGW. What made this one more egregious than most was there was some reputed scientists, who should have known better, going around selling that load of garbage. Not even NOAA could back that lie up and quickly distanced themselves from it:

Despite this strong evidence for a warming planet, greenhouse gas forcing fails to explain the 2010 heat wave over western Russia. The natural process of atmospheric blocking, and the climate impacts induced by such blocking, are the principal cause for this heat wave. It is not known whether, or to what extent, greenhouse gas emissions may affect the frequency or intensity of blocking during summer. It is important to note that observations reveal no trend in a daily frequency of July blocking over the period since 1948, nor is there an appreciable trend in the absolute values of upper tropospheric summertime heights over western Russia for the period since 1900.

The indications are that the current blocking event is intrinsic to the natural variability of summer climate in this region, a region which has a climatological vulnerability to blocking and associated heat waves (e.g., 1960, 1972, 1988). A high index value for blocking days is not a necessary condition for high July surface temperature over western Russia–the warm summers of 1981, 1999, 2001, and 2002 did not experience an unusual number of blocking days.



However little things like having NOAA dispute the alarmist line is not enough to stop them and sure enough I found the beginning of it for the Colorado Wildfires. This time since there hasn’t been a grand ole heat wave recently in Colorado they needed a different tack. Instead of sudden high heat drying the forest out and contributing to the fires, they go for the indirect method here. They hypothesize that warmer temperatures have been such that it caused “summers” to lengthen, thus making it easier for the Pine Beetle (a deadly pest to the pine trees of the Rockies) to spread, kill more trees and thus become kindling for wildfires. Sounds reasonable on the face of it, there has been more Pine beetles in recent years and aerial imagery can easily spot the damage they do (The tree’s needles turn red as the tree dies) and thus be more readily to go poof. So you would think that studies on this would have been done and there has been…Model studies on what will happen in the future based on the CAGW doom of the IPCC such as this one from the USFS:

Native bark beetles are responsible for the death of billions of coniferous trees across millions of acres of forests ranging from Mexico to Alaska,” said Barbara Bentz, research entomologist with the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station and lead author of the study. “Our study begins to explain how their populations respond to the climatic changes being projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

In the study, Bentz and her colleagues synthesized what is currently known about the effects of climate change on several species of bark beetles that cause extensive, landscape-scale tree mortality in North America. They then used a combination of models to analyze the likely response of and generate case studies for two specific species—the spruce beetle and mountain pine beetle.

Our models suggest that climatic changes on the order of what is expected would increase the population success of both spruce beetle and mountain pine beetle throughout much of their range, although there is considerable variability,” said Chris Fettig, a research entomologist with the Pacific Southwest Research Station and a coauthor of the study. “Bark beetles are influenced directly by shifts in temperature, which affect developmental timing and temperature-induced mortality, and indirectly, through climatic effects on the species associated with beetles and their host trees.”


However that doesn’t stop alarmist pressure groups to try innuendo to tie forest fires today to pine beetles and from there to CAGW as can be seen in this report from Reuters that came out on Sept 9th at the height of the Colorado Wildfire:

And therein lies the problem: Climate change has extended summers in Colorado just enough to give the northern pine beetle the comfort it needs to multiply like never before. The bug has taken full advantage, devouring bark at a rate 10 times higher than ever recorded, killing trees and leaving them scattered like kindling for wildfires.

And those fires now take hold with increasing frequency, reducing the forest to lumps of silt and sludge. Lush slopes degenerate into unstable masses of goo. The water upon which the city depends becomes muddy and irregular, which makes it more difficult — and expensive — to assure people they can turn on their faucets and trust the drinking water that comes out.


As you see the central theme is that summers are getting longer thus you get more beetles destroying trees thus more wildfires, however usually summer length is not what determines any population explosion in the animal kingdom its winter. You see just like every other animal the new Pine Beetle offspring has to survive winter to have increasing adult populations to spawn more larva and so on. One or two really cold winters would kill off large numbers of beetles no matter how many long summers there is:

Life cycle

Approximately two weeks following oviposition, pine beetles hatch as white larvae. They dig into tree bark where they spend the winter, then grow up to 7 mm long in the spring. The pupal stage ends in the late spring or early summer, and from mid-July to mid-August, the beetles leave their tunnels and fly to new trees. Female beetles release pheromones to attract males and encourage mass attacks.[11] The lifespan of a single pine beetle is about one year.[12]

Temperatures down to −30 °C to −40 °C (−22 °F to −40 °F) for at least several days, or at least twelve hours of −40 or lower, kills most mountain pine beetles


So in this coming series of posts I’m going to look state to state from Colorado, up through Wyoming to Montana, over to Washington through Idaho and down into Oregon, by looking at the temperature records for the stations in the heavily forested areas. You can pick those stations out from the Web interface map of USHCN data provided by CDIAC (http://cdiac.ornl.gov/epubs/ndp/ushcn/ushcn_map_interface.html ) . This map is based on what looks like a Google map and shows clearly which stations are near or in forested areas. However I will not be using USHCN data, I will be using NASA GISS data since they not only show the annual yearly anomalies or the monthly anomalies but also seasonal anomalies for each station. In this I will be looking at a couple of questions:

  1. Is the temperature rising overall at these locations?
  2. Is the Summer Seasonal average (J-J-A) increasing at these locations?
  3. Is the months of May and Sept increasing at these locations, thus showing an early starting summer and/or a late ending summer? Of course I can’t do September numbers for this year so it will only go up to 2009

Just as I have started on this track I found this article:

Could pine beetles actually reduce forest fire risk?

There’s no doubt that the tiny mountain pine beetle has caused massive destruction along the Pacific Coast. But that doesn’t mean that the bug has raised the forest fire risk, says a team of three researchers.

In fact, in some cases, forests destroyed by the beetle may actually be less likely to burn.

The idea that beetles killing off tress could actually be lowering the fire risk may sound counterintuitive. After all, dead trees are dry and should therefore be like a tinderbox primed for wildfire.

University of Wisconsin forest ecologists Monica Turner and Phil Townsend have been studying beetle-infected forests near Yellowstone National Park. Along with Yellowstone Vegetation Management Specialist Roy Renkin, the researchers have been using images taken by NASA’s Landsat satellites to map the areas hardest hit by the beetle outbreak.


I found that through Tom Nelson: http://tomnelson.blogspot.com/


3 responses to “Wildfires, Pine Beetles and CAGW/Climate Change Part 1

  1. Pingback: World Wide News Flash

  2. Pingback: Thousands Evacuate Colo. Wildfires | affordable life insurance

  3. Pingback: Wildfires, Pine Beetles and CAGW/Climate Change Part 2 « Things I Find Interesting

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