Science has good and bad news for the future of wildfires

By Lex Treinen
ANCHORAGE (KTUU) – Scientists have been working feverishly to understand the processes that drive wildfires in the state and in the country, and unsurprisingly there is some worrying news about chance of big fires in the future.

While national agencies offer predictions the data is pretty coarse without nuance to the terrain or ecology of an area.

So researchers like Peter Bieniek of UAF are working to produce better models to increase the accuracy of forecasts and models, particularly on a large scale and in longer time frames. Beniek’s work focuses on analyzing data for future, high-probability fire days, and the results aren’t much of a surprise considering a warming planet.

“Likely looking down the road, especially in these future projections, data show that we’re gonna get more higher fire danger over the next hundred years,” says Bieniek.

One of the main drivers of higher probability is a likely increase in lightning strikes in Interior Alaska, which is caused by a higher likelihood of convective precipitation. Convective precipitation occurs when water vapor rises straight up through the atmosphere to form clouds, instead of moving diagonally like normal weather patterns that bring various forms of precipitation.

That moves the total likelihood of a fire year like 2015 — when five million acres burned — higher by 34 to 60%, according to Bieniek’s data.

Bieniek’s data show that these sorts of strikes are likely to increase as convection precipitation increases. That, in turn, drives up the likelihood of fires.

An interesting finding is that two different models used by Bieniek and his colleagues indicate that while fire danger is likely to rise in the early season–May, June, and July– the models diverge as to whether the fire danger will stay as high in August and September. That means that fire managers could be seeing intense strain on firefighting crews earlier in the season, and have it taper off later in the season. For now, though, they aren’t making any bets.

Source: Science has good and bad news for the future of wildfires – KTUU, 2019-08-27

Amazon fires, deforestation could eventually affect Arizona forests

By Alex Devoid, Arizona Daily Star
As the Amazon burns, a bad situation could get worse for forests in Arizona.

“The relationship is very clear,” said Don Falk, a professor at the University of Arizona.

Deforestation in the Amazon accelerates changes in global climate. And these changes eventually affect forests close to home.

They’re driving longer, warmer and more intense wildfire seasons, he said. And they’ve already fueled unprecedented wildfires in Arizona and across the West.

Tropical forests like the Amazon rarely burn when left to nature, but fire has always had a place in the life cycle of forests in Arizona.

Low-intensity fires in Arizona historically cleared the forest floor, limiting the accumulation of wildfire fuel, while leaving mature trees standing.

In the 1880s, people and livestock started interrupting fire’s place in this cycle, Falk said. Then U.S. federal policies suppressed wildfire for decades staring in the 1920s, allowing fuel to accumulate. Changes to global climate dried it out with drought and higher temperatures.

In the worst cases, flames jumped from the ground to the crowns of densely packed trees.

They engulfed old-growth forests, spreading faster and more destructively through more forest than ever before.

In 2002 and 2003, for example, it happened in the peaks above Tucson on Mount Lemmon during the Bullock Fire and then the Aspen Fire. Since then, hundreds of thousands of acres have burnt this way in Arizona.

The Amazon is an important buffer against the warming climate, which has created the conditions for these unprecedented fires. It absorbs around 2 billion of the 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted globally each year.

At least a quarter of the stored carbon on earth is concentrated in tropical forests like the Amazon, which grow on barely 12% of the earth’s land, Falk said.

Forests fires across the globe may contribute to climate change by burning carbon these forests store, according to a 2015 study by researchers from universities across the country.

As the Amazon burns, for example, it absorbs less carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, more billows from the flames, warming the planet by trapping heat inside the atmosphere.

“It’s a double hit to the global climate system,” Falk said.

Source: Amazon fires, deforestation could eventually affect Arizona forests- tucson.com, 2019-09-06

Ethiopia Just Set the World Record for Most Trees Planted in a Day

By Evan Nicole Brown
ON JUNE 22, 2013, PAKISTAN’S Sindh Forest Department set a Guinness World Record when 300 people planted 847,275 trees in 24 hours. Three years later, on July 11, 2016, India eclipsed that mark, planting 49.3 million tree saplings (comprising 80 different species) in the same amount of time.

But yesterday, the arboreal record was shattered again—in half the time. A nationwide planting spree in Ethiopia saw volunteers plant more than 350 million trees across 1,000 designated sites—in just 12 hours.

This latest eco-challenge was designed as part of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s “Green Legacy Initiative,” a reforestation plan to address Ethiopia’s rapid tree loss. At the start of the 20th century, 30 percent of the country’s land was forested. Now, less than 4 percent of it is.

Ethiopia is not alone when it comes to tree loss. In 2015, 10 African countries launched the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative, which aims to restore 386,000 square miles of the continent’s land by 2030.

The benefits are legion.

“Restoring our landscapes brings prosperity, security, and opportunity,” Vincent Biruta, Rwanda’s minister of natural resources, said at the time. “With forest landscape restoration, we’ve seen agricultural yields rise and farmers in our rural communities diversify their livelihoods and improve their well-being. Forest landscape restoration is not just an environmental strategy; it is an economic and social development strategy as well.”

As part of this effort, Ethiopia pledged to tackle 57,915 square miles of its landscape. On July 29, Prime Minister Ahmed encouraged millions of Ethiopians to each plant a minimum of 40 seedlings. The citizenry took him very seriously. Some schools and government offices closed to encourage full participation.

Source: Ethiopia Just Set the World Record for Most Trees Planted in a Day – Atlas Obscura, 2019-07-30

Group urges nearly doubling of Madison tree canopy

By Dean Mosiman
Threatened by infestations, climate change and competing demands for space, Madison’s tree canopy will shrink with “potentially disastrous results” unless the city invests more in its trees, a new report says.

After nearly two years of study, the city’s Urban Forestry Task Force is making a series of recommendations — some with potentially significant price tags — to nurture and dramatically increase the area covered by trees from 23% to 40% of Madison’s 80 square miles.

Already, the city has had to deal with infestation by the emerald ash borer that’s forcing the removal of thousands of trees, as well as disease, climate change, loss of mature trees to development, road salt, and cramped space for planting and growth in the public right of way.

On private property, where most of the trees in the city are located, uneven care is also affecting the urban canopy, the report said.

The task force, created by the City Council on Aug. 1, 2017, has offered a 25-page report and recommendations aimed at elevating the importance of trees in the city’s planning, investments and operations and creating a new city role in expanding the canopy on private property.

“We have a quality urban forest in the city,” parks superintendent Eric Knepp said. “However, there are many opportunities to improve it.”

The 46 recommendations call for a preservation ordinance to protect mature trees; a yet-to-be defined grant program for planting trees on private property; focusing attention on neighborhoods that need trees; written standards for how to care for trees; hiring a forestry outreach and education specialist; revisiting old sites that don’t require much landscaping, such as parking lots at big shopping malls, and bringing them up to current standards; and planting more trees in parks than needed to replace those that are lost.

Source: Group urges nearly doubling of Madison tree canopy – Madison State Journal, 2019-07-28

BURNED: Are Trees the New Coal?

A documentary about the burning of wood at an industrial scale for energy, “BURNED: Are Trees the New Coal?” tells the little-known story of the accelerating destruction of our forests for fuel, and probes the policy loopholes, huge subsidies, and blatant greenwashing of the burgeoning biomass power industry.
By independent filmmakers Marlboro Films, LLC: Alan Dater, Lisa Merton, and Chris Hardee.

Source: BURNED: Are Trees the New Coal? – Link TV

Researchers map symbiotic relationships between trees and microbes worldwide

by Taylor Kubota, Stanford University
In and around the tangled roots of the forest floor, fungi and bacteria grow with trees, exchanging nutrients for carbon in a vast, global marketplace. A new effort to map the most abundant of these symbiotic relationships—involving more than 1.1 million forest sites and 28,000 tree species—has revealed factors that determine where different types of symbionts will flourish. The work could help scientists understand how symbiotic partnerships structure the world’s forests and how they could be affected by a warming climate.

In and around the tangled roots of the forest floor, fungi and bacteria grow with trees, exchanging nutrients for carbon in a vast, global marketplace. A new effort to map the most abundant of these symbiotic relationships—involving more than 1.1 million forest sites and 28,000 tree species—has revealed factors that determine where different types of symbionts will flourish. The work could help scientists understand how symbiotic partnerships structure the world’s forests and how they could be affected by a warming climate.

Source: Researchers map symbiotic relationships between trees and microbes worldwide – Phys.org, 2019-05-15

Can Humans Help Trees Outrun Climate Change?

By Moises Velasquez-Manoff
A dark synergy of extreme weather and emboldened pests could imperil vast stretches of woodland. Foresters are only starting to wrestle with solutions.

Foresters began noticing the patches of dying pines and denuded oaks, and grew concerned. Warmer winters and drier summers had sent invasive insects and diseases marching northward, killing the trees.

If the dieback continued, some woodlands could become shrub land.

Most trees can migrate only as fast as their seeds disperse — and if current warming trends hold, the climate this century will change 10 times faster than many tree species can move, according to one estimate. Rhode Island is already seeing more heat and drought, shifting precipitation and the intensification of plagues such as the red pine scale, a nearly invisible insect carried by wind that can kill a tree in just a few years.

The dark synergy of extreme weather and emboldened pests could imperil vast stretches of woodland.

So foresters in Rhode Island and elsewhere have launched ambitious experiments to test how people can help forests adapt, something that might take decades to occur naturally. One controversial idea, known as assisted migration, involves deliberately moving trees northward. But trees can live centuries, and environments are changing so fast in some places that species planted today may be ill-suited to conditions in 50 years, let alone 100. No one knows the best way to make forests more resilient to climatic upheaval.

These great uncertainties can prompt “analysis paralysis,” said Maria Janowiak, deputy director of the Forest Service’s Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, or N.I.A.C.S. But, she added, “We can’t keep waiting until we know everything.”

Source: Can Humans Help Trees Outrun Climate Change? – New York Times, 2019-04-25

How Trees Fare in Big Hurricanes

By Amber Dance
Forests are resilient, but researchers wonder if climate change will outpace their adaptations.

Trees bowed to 45-degree angles and flying leaves crisscrossed the sky as Hurricane Florence ravaged North Carolina’s coast and inland regions in mid-September 2018. The storm, which peaked as a Category 4 hurricane before making landfall near Wilmington as a Category 1, deluged parts of the state with nearly three feet of rain. It stripped the leaves off black walnuts, crape myrtles, and their entwining wisterias, especially on the north and northeast sides of the trees, which bore the full brunt of the 100-plus-mile-per-hour wind gusts. An estimated 1.25 million acres of timber, valued at nearly $70 million, suffered varying degrees of damage.

Whoppers like Florence are a reality that North Carolina—not to mention the rest of the Eastern seaboard and the Caribbean—may have to get used to in the near future. Historically, a given location might only see such destructive hurricanes every few decades. But with global temperatures on the rise, the risk that a fledgling storm system will grow to “major” status, defined as category 3 and above, is likely to climb. Warming oceans mean more water vapor in the air, and that vapor is what fuels the storms. “One of the signals that we expect from climate change is that the strongest hurricanes will get stronger,” says Gary Lackmann, an atmospheric scientist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

What does that mean for trees? The scene in the woods after Florence was one of seeming devastation. In every direction, trees, branches, and brush littered the ground. Yet just a few weeks after the storm, the stripped trees sprouted fresh leaves and flowers. It may have been autumn, but the trees already had leaf and flower buds in waiting for the upcoming spring, explains Jim Slye, assistant regional forester with the state forest service in Goldsboro. Re-leafing after storms helps keep the trees’ circulation going, and flowering allows trees to drop seeds in case they end up succumbing to storm damage. The trees won’t necessarily die, though; tree ring studies make it clear that many survived past storms.

Source: How Trees Fare in Big Hurricanes – The Scientust, 2019-02-01

The curious case of the disappearing maple

By PASSANT RABIE
Bigleaf maple trees in Washington state are on the decline. Researchers are on the hunt for the cause, and climate change is turning into a lead suspect.

Daniel Omdal has driven past the same bigleaf maple tree for decades, often stopping his car to take pictures of its full, expansive crown. In the past few years, however, the tree has started to look more lopsided, with bare branches and patches in its crown with little to no growth.

To Omdal, a forest pathologist, it seemed like an obvious case of an insect infestation. If not, perhaps some kind of disease: a damaging fungus, wilt or a rogue bacterium. Whatever it was, it wasn’t isolated to one tree. The extent of sick bigleaf maples was alarming, and Omdal wasn’t the only one who was worried.

Omdal’s colleagues at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, where he has worked since 1997, had noticed the same symptoms in many other bigleaf maples. So had many residents of the region, who called the state to report their concerns. The issue had also been occurring nationwide, with reports of sharp declines of urban tree populations in different states, such as the oak tree in Southern California. In Washington, the problem was hard to miss: Bigleafs, also known as Oregon maples, are a staple of the Pacific Northwest landscape.

“These calls became more frequent, I couldn’t so easily dismiss the concerns,” Omdal says. In 2011, he became part of a state-led team investigating the bigleaf die-offs.

The group discovered that about 40 percent of bigleaf maple trees in Washington state are declining, says Jacob Betzen, a graduate student at the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, who has been working with the investigative team for the past two years.

The first suspect on their list was Armillaria, a fungus that causes the roots of the tree to rot. But when the team tested hundreds of trees for it, most of their results came back negative. Then, the researchers tested for another fungus called verticillium wilt. Also negative. Often, a few trees would be infected, but it was never widespread enough to be the primary cause of the species’ decline.

Omdal collected soil samples to test in the lab to look for other causes. Every time his team followed a new lead, it didn’t pan out. “We would come to a dead end,” Omdal says.

Patrick Tobin, Betzen’s advisor and a specialist in disturbance ecology, added, “It’s been puzzling, there’s no smoking gun here.”

Then Betzen noticed something curious about the die-offs. They are much more common in developed landscapes and areas that are warmer, drier and closer to roads. That led to a new suspect: climate change. “It seemed probably related to recent weather patterns, it’s getting hotter and drier in Washington in recent years,” Betzen says. The group’s results won’t be published until Betzen concludes his research at the end of the year, but Tobin is confident that the key driver causing bigleaf maple die-offs is, in fact, climate change.

Source: The curious case of the disappearing maple – Scienceline, 2018-12-05

Part of the Answer to Climate Change May Be America’s Trees and Dirt, Scientists Say

By Brad Plumer
A new study found that the United States could store enough carbon in natural landscapes to offset all the cars and trucks on the road.

When people think of potential solutions to global warming, they tend to visualize technologies like solar panels or electric cars. A new study published on Wednesday, however, found that better management of forests, grasslands and soils in the United States could offset as much as 21 percent of the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

At the high end of the projections, that would be roughly equivalent to taking every single car and truck in the country off the road.

The paper, published in the journal Science Advances, identified a number of promising strategies, like replanting trees on degraded lands, changing logging practices to better protect existing forests and sequestering more carbon in farmland soils through new agricultural techniques.

“We’re not saying these strategies are a substitute for getting to zero-carbon energy; we still need to do that too,” said Joseph E. Fargione, a scientist at the Nature Conservancy and lead author of the study. “But we think that natural climate solutions generally get overlooked. And we found a lot of opportunities here to help mitigate climate change.”

Source: Part of the Answer to Climate Change May Be America’s Trees and Dirt, Scientists Say – New York Times, 2018-11-14