Tree Mortality

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jamesrobertsmith
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Tree Mortality

Post by jamesrobertsmith » Mon Aug 30, 2010 6:01 pm

Last week I had the opportunity to hike in Yellowstone National Park. Some of the areas where I hiked had really major tree mortality. Especially striking because much of the forest there is almost like a monoculture with mile after mile of forests that seem to consist of three or four types of tree. The eastern part of the park was worst. I was curious about this, but never had the opportunity to ask a ranger what was going on.

I'll post a photo here and you experts can fill me in:


Click on image to see its original size
This was taken on my climb to the summit of Avalanche Peak in the Absaroka Range.


I got conflicting stories from other hikers I encountered. Some told me that it was the result of the major forest fire that hit the Park in 1988. I was aware of that fire, but it seems to me that even in the higher elevations that the trees would have at least partially recovered by now. Another reason I was given is that I was seeing the result of pine beetle infestation which is devastating the western states.

Which is it? Or is there a third reason?

GeneRollins
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Re: Tree Mortality

Post by GeneRollins » Mon Aug 30, 2010 11:55 pm

The Avalanche Peak Trail is described on the NPS Yellowstone site as going "through the whitebark pine forest to a small meadow at the base of the bowl of Avalanche Peak", so I'm imagining that this area is probably one of the many that has been devastated by the beetle infestation. Blister rust has also caused a high mortality of whitebark pines, from my reading. In the summer of 2003, lightning started a fire that burned thousands of acres just west of Avalanche Peak, threatening Fishing Bridge area and the East Entrance, so this may also be some of what you saw.

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jamesrobertsmith
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Re: Tree Mortality

Post by jamesrobertsmith » Tue Aug 31, 2010 6:35 pm

There was a lot of tree mortality in the park, mainly on the east side where it was by far the worst. I guess it really is the beetle as several people told me. I was horrified because some of the mountains I saw were completely denuded of tree cover. The entire content of the forests in many places seems to be a single species of tree!

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edfrank
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Re: Tree Mortality

Post by edfrank » Wed Sep 01, 2010 4:46 pm

James,

Likely what you are looking at are deaths from the Pinebark beetle. The fires in 1988 were pretty extensive:

http://www.yellowstone-bearman.com/yfire.html
A total of 248 fires started in greater Yellowstone in 1988; 50 of those were in Yellowstone National Park. Despite widespread misconceptions that all fires were initially allowed to burn, only 31 of the total were; 28 of these began inside the park. In the end, 7 major fires were responsible for more than 95% of the burned acreage. Five of those fires were ignited outside the park, and 3 of them were human-caused fires that firefighters attempted to control from the beginning.
88burn.jpg
88burn.jpg (183.63 KiB) Viewed 1924 times
Shots taken in 1999 after 11 years of regrowth show trees beginning to regrow:
burned_1999.jpg
Here is photo of some high elevation pine deaths:

http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/lwill ... alive.html

Click on image to see its original size
This article originally appeared as a guest editorial in the Jackson Hole News and Guide on Ocotober 28, 2009.

It's impossible to drive over Togwotee Pass or hike in the wilds of the Gros Ventres or Absarokas these days without seeing vast red, dying forests of pine trees — testimony to the rapid changes underway with rising temperatures. Warmer winters mean that mountain pine beetles, which have coevolved for millennia with lower elevation lodgepole pine and other western forests, are now flourishing in high-elevation whitebark pine forests...
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"I love science and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awe by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and revigorate it." by Robert M. Sapolsky

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jamesrobertsmith
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Re: Tree Mortality

Post by jamesrobertsmith » Mon Sep 06, 2010 12:02 am

Yeah, it was exactly what some of the other hikers were telling me. It's the influence of human-caused global warming. We're bound to extinction to fuck up the Earth. Oh, well.

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