Colorado stands to lose half its aspen, pine forests by 2060
Climate change accelerating death of Western forests
USA Today, Sept. 10, 2014
DENVER — The iconic pine and aspen forests of the Rocky Mountains are dying off at an alarming rate thanks to conditions exacerbated by climate change — drought, insect infestations and wildfires — a new report says.
Colorado alone could lose 45% of its aspen stands over the next 45 years, says the report by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization. Pine bark beetles alone have killed 46 million acres of trees across the west, an area nearly the size of Colorado.
"The wildfires, infestations and heat and drought stress are the symptoms; climate change is the underlying disease," Jason Funk, the report's co-author and a senior climate scientist at Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement.
Projections by the U.S. Forest Service that were included in the report, predict that if emissions of heat-trapping gases continue increasing at recent rates, by 2060 the area climatically suitable in the Rocky Mountains for lodgepole pine could decline by about 90%, for ponderosa pine by about 80%, for Engelmann spruce by about 66% and for Douglas fir by about 58%.
National forests and parks play a key role in the economies of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. National parks in those states, including Yellowstone and Glacier, host about 11 million visitors annually, generating $1 billion in tourist spending, the report, Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk, said. If the landscapes significantly change, tourists may no longer visit those areas, it said.
The trees grow in different areas, depending on how cold the winters get and how warm the summers are. If climate change alters those levels, the trees won't grow there anymore.
"So far, we have had relatively modest climate changes, but they have already jolted our forests," said Stephen Saunders, report co-author and president of Rocky Mountain Climate Organization. "If we continue changing the climate, we may bring about much more fundamental disruption of these treasured national landscapes."