Al Gore meets Bark Beetles: The Forests at Risk Symposium

On February 18, Al Gore visited Aspen, Colorado for a symposium put on by For the Forest. Some of my colleagues attended and said that the presentations were excellent. Fortunately for those of us who couldn’t make it, the whole enchilada is posted here.

My colleagues especially recommended the Canadian and international perspectives as particularly interesting, as we are more aware of the local pest-related impacts. Those would be the Kurz and Allen presentations, and Linda Joyce is always worth hearing, so if you only have so much time, I would recommend those.

Here are a couple of quotes from a Denver Post news story here.

“The climate is changing,” said Forest Service ecologist Linda Joyce, speaking at “Forests at Risk: Climate Change & the Future of the American West.”
“Temperatures are warming and will likely continue to warm,” she said.
That will change the look of forests forever, but exactly what they will look like remains to be seen, she said.

Aspen, the iconic trees of the West, will probably vanish from mountainsides where they once thrived, Joyce said. Pine trees will retreat to cooler climes, and animals that depend on them will follow.

That leaves land managers trying to grapple with “the eventual loss of the plants and animals we know,” she said.


“It’s a challenge that I’ve never seen,” said Rick Cables, Rocky Mountain regional forester for the Forest Service. “. . . This context, the context of our times, with climate change and what we’re seeing on the landscape, is a game-changer.”

Government agencies are used to working slowly and juggling a variety of interests, from environmentalists to industry.

Those groups may have to learn to work together, Cables said, if land managers are to respond quickly. Tools such as fire and logging may be necessary, he said, even if they’re unpopular.”

FWIW, that’s the way I frame “climate change and forests” as well, that the shared challenge of climate change is calling for us to work together differently and, dare I say, better than we have in the past.

Finally, here’s a High Country News Goat Blog piece by Sarah Gilman, with a different take on the conference.

But the conversation was lacking in one glaring way — especially given the event’s location within striking distance of the mini-mall-sized houses (which loomed unignorably over my left shoulder through the giant picture windows of the Doerr-Hosier Center) peppering Red Mountain, the private jet-dominated airport which accounts for a sizeable chunk of Aspen’s greenhouse gas emissions, the four ski resorts that draw people here from all over the world.

No one pointed the finger back at us — at our insatiable appetite for energy, be it “dirty” or “clean;” at our use and over-use of resources — land, water, timber — regardless of our political affiliations or whether we’re global-warming believers. Energy efficiency and conservation got barely a nod. There was no mention of living smaller, closer to home. After the auditorium had cleared and everyone dispersed to a fancy reception with live music and free food, a colleague snarkily dubbed the day’s proceedings “Drive For the Forest.”

My next post will be relating the worldview described at this conference to the concepts in the proposed planning rule.

12 thoughts on “Al Gore meets Bark Beetles: The Forests at Risk Symposium”

  1. The “Al Gore as God” crowd worships the ground he stands on and accepts his claims that “climate change” alone is responsible for dead forests. Of course, old Al cannot be expected to understand the concepts of overcrowding, off-site species, lodgepole life cycles and the limits of preciptitation. We cannot continue to pretend that “solving climate change” will have any effect on our present forests. Yes, “climate change” has its impacts but, it is merely one factor out of many significant ones. It is unfortunate that people are willing to sacrifice today’s forests, and hoping that future forests will be in balance.

  2. Foto- sounds like you are not a fan ;).
    On the related topic of attribution..

    An entomologist sent me this to put things into historical perspective- if stands were even aged in the 30’s and we had similar outbreaks, was fire suppression really the culprit? If the Big Blowup was in 1910…

    Here is a quote from the 1935 Region 4 opening three paragraphs of the Region 4, Regional Forester’s Annual Letter to the Chief. Insect Control. Dated November 9, 1935. (Carl Jorgensen, USFS entomologist in Boise compiled some great info that you may be interested in from Region 4’s old documents)

    “The great wave of mountain pine beetle infestations which has for several
    years been progressively sweeping southward and east ward through the
    lodgepole pine, limber pine and white bark pine stand of this Region
    despite the futile efforts of artificial control is still our greatest
    cause of concern from insect damage. The prevailing drouth conditions
    throughout the Region during the past few years have been unfavorable to
    the maintenance of the usual physiological activity within the host trees
    and have greatly favored the release of endemic broods from their natural
    factors of control into epidemics which have begun to appear widely
    scattered throughout the Region. A return to normal conditions of climate
    will undoubtedly cause the disappearance of many of theses small incipient
    epidemics but until such time as we feel safe in reliance on nature for
    control we desire to give all the aid of artificial control that lies
    within our power. This year has been nearer normal than any of the past
    several years.

    The mountain pine beetle (D. monticolae) has so exhausted its host material
    through the destruction of mature and overmature lodgepole, limber, and
    white bark pine in the western Idaho Forests that it has either disappeared
    or is in the process of disappearing as a epidemic infestation. Throughout
    these forests the lodgepole pine stands present an extremely serious fire
    menace due to the excessive amount of dead material. The forests of Region
    4 included in what the Bureau of Entomology terms “the Yellowstone Project”
    (Caribou, Targhee, Teton and parts of the Wyoming) are now being engulfed
    in the southeastern sweep of the epidemic. The Targhee and Teton being the
    farthest north have better than 90% of the infested trees of the four
    Forests concerned.

    The Black Hills beetle (D. ponderosae) is gradually being brought under
    control in the stands of lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, white bark pine
    and limber pine in the Utah forests until at present no really serious
    epidemic exists.”

  3. 60% of Colorado’s forests burned off in the late 1800’s. Was that caused by global warming? Most of the trees on half the Black Hills died of MPB in the early 1900’s. Was that global warming? Perhaps it was? We emerged from the Little Ice age. We all know what that was. It’s what Al Gore and his minions will tell us that they are NOT certain what caused it, but they will turn around in the next breath and tell us WITH certainty that man is cuasing global warming. Or perhaps the eb and flow of the beetle has been around a long time.

    Perhaps all the fires were caused by what I like to call the “drunken miner syndrome”. A Mr. Aplet from the wilderness society spoke at Gore’s thing and acknowledged the late 1800’s fires in Colorado but blamed them on “Miner’s logging slash”. Of course in the next breath he would toe the enviro party line and tell us that todays MPB deadfall doesn’t increase fire hazard one bit. But nobody asked him-darn it.

    I know lots of past MPB outbreaks that didn’t burn. The “weather window” is still the driver. But every fire I photographed in Montana was fuelled by 20 year old MPB deadfall. And one has to wonder how many potential big fires were snuffed out by 10AM. After all, the big ones are just ones that got away. In another 10-15 years every lighting strike in Colorado is going to find fruitfull surface fuels.

    What I really want to see, is the “long term effects of MPB outbreak on outdoor recreation”. Google earth “Winterpark” ski area. The slopes are red. In another 10-15 years the “ghost forest” will all be laid down. Let’s see how loyal the skier are. I’d be buying stock in a ski area based on Spruce.


  4. Derek- I’m not sure Greg Aplet spoke at the symposium; it sounds more like he was interviewed in this Aspen Times story.

    I agree with Greg on this part of what he says..

    “We might find ourselves without big trees on a landscape scale,” Aplet said. That will affect everything from recreation to logging and simple aesthetic joy of driving through the mountains, he acknowledged. But he’s confident the forests will bounce back, even if not in our lifetimes and maybe not in the same way as before.

    “Life will find a way,” Aplet said. “It just might not be the life we’re used to.”

    Lodgepole pines have proven in past epidemics that they are resilient. This outbreak won’t be the last of them in the Rockies, he said.

    The fact is in the fossil record- vegetation will be and has been, resilient to climate change. Plants and animals will be around, even though they may not be the ones we currently “want.”

    That’s why the bark beetle issue is so interesting..

    Is it “unprecedented”? you could argue either way.
    Is it an “environmental disaster”? Depends on your view.

    But everyone, including TWS, agrees:
    It requires funding to remove hazard trees and provide defensible space for communities. (Actually Greg’s interview was not so clear on defensible space, but that’s another layer of discussion).

    I think, and I agree with Rick, that more climate issues in the future will be like bark beetles-

    1) there is a problematic situation
    2) it’s due to climate or some combo of climate and other factors, human-caused or not- at this point the cause is probably only of academic interest to those who need to react
    (because policies on energy are not determined in Elk Country- even Gucci Elk, like Aspen.)
    3) people have to agree on what to do- or not do- about the problem situation
    4) whatever you do will take funding and there isn’t much to go around -so any intervention will need to have a broad base of support.

  5. Ahh, you’re right Sharon. I had to check my e-mail, I was responding to an e-mail I got from a member of the Colorado Timber industry. Here’s his thoughts on Mr. Aplets story:
    “Three thoughts on the following article – 1) I’m pretty sure you’ll sleep better knowing that The Wilderness Society sees a silver lining to the mountain pine beetle epidemic. 2) If the objective all along was to have a forest that was much more diverse in species and age, we could have accomplished that quite handily with chainsaws and skidders, and also created lots of wood products and hundreds of jobs in rural communities in the process. 3) The susceptibility of Colorado’s forests to “disease and pests” actually did not “[catch] everybody off guard”. Forest entomologists have been pointing out those risks for the past 30 years, including in the forest plan revisions for the Arapaho Roosevelt, Routt, and Medicine Bow National Forests. It was just more politically correct to base forest management strategies on the various issues du jour”.

    Doesn’t sound like they’ve completely buried the hatchet in the interest of finding common ground-but they will take your money. In Colorado, like other similar enviro havens, forestry now sells itself. Every time they drive by a “green island” in a sea of red and dead and recognize that its a regenerated clearcut. The public does know it’s a regen clearcut don’t they? I don’t know how many times the Colorado media has run the “stock” photo of the green island in a sea of red without identifying it as a regen clearcut. Beyond the good work of Bob Berwyn, I doubt how much the media wants the public to know.

    The myth of the “drunken miner” is easily shot down when the logistics are scrutinized.

    I read recently in one of our engineering trade magazines(ENR) that China is proposing to build the equivelant of the entire US generating capacity in the next 25 years. That must be terribly depressing to some. Sorry to ruin someones afternoon. But if you are going to condemn the Chinese for wanting to live like you, then shouldn’t you live like they do now? Right.

    • So, will this development only clear the eco-group recommended 150 feet “for fire safety”? Should the rest be preserved as “native snag forest”? I would think the development could look at installing a small biomass boiler to help with the heat. It sure looks like there is plenty of biomass to utilize.

  6. One more quick post. I love this. It just dawned on me the “photo” beside Al Gore is one of the “stock photos” I just posted. Do you suppose ol Al pointed out the “green islands” of the regen clearcuts?? Do you suppose anyone even wondered?? I’ve got a hundred dollar bill that says he made no mention or even noticed.

  7. I HAVE to take one more jab. Is this the part of the seminar where AL was lecturing about the “importance of age diversity through timber harvest”?? The sad part is I doubt any in the audience knew they were clearcuts. Thanks for makin my point for me Al.

  8. Sudden Aspen Decline, that’s sad. I saw there was a new paper out a couple of weeks ago that predicted the Lodgepole Forest would be close to gone in 60 years. They probably believed the IPCCs climate model predictions. I really don’t think they have a clue. Part of our Lodgepole-Spruce Forest which burned in 1994 is coming back to Lodgepole and Aspen. Aspen was fairly minor component prior to burning. If fire burns through aspen (the tree not the town) it tends to sprout like crazy. Holding on to old aspen and lodgepole stands and assuming it will last last is unrealistic. They evolved to thrive on disturbance, and leaving them undisturbed won’t save them.

  9. The lodgepole mortality provides a great opportunity for restoration of wet meadows and aspen stands that were lost due to lack of fire and over-trapping of beaver. This topic should be part of the discussions that should be taking place among stakeholders who have an interest in how the landscape will look in the future once the beetles have run their course.


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