Researchers cite climate change in forest decline |

Researchers cite climate change in forest decline

ASPEN – Aspens and white pines in the West will face worsening devastation because climate change will make them more susceptible to diseases and bugs, including an infestation of bark beetles that has already killed some 33,000 square miles of forests, researchers say.

Jim Worrall, a U.S. Forest Service plant pathologist who studies aspen deaths, told a conference Friday that “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” indicates climate change has left aspens stressed and vulnerable.

About 1,700 square miles of aspens died between 2003 and 2009, The Aspen Times reported.

Worrall said aspens’ current habitat, about 25,000 square miles across the West, will be reduced by more than 68 percent by 2060. But he said aspens are adaptable and won’t be eradicated.

“It seems certain we’ll have aspen somewhere in the landscape far into the future,” he said at the Aspen event sponsored by a nonprofit group called For the Forests.

White pines, common in Montana and parts of Wyoming, aren’t as resilient and have begun to fall victim to bark beetles because warmer temperatures allowed the bugs to move north, said Diana Six, professor of forest entomology and pathology at the University of Montana.

Previously, they were protected by temperatures too cold for bark beetles, but when temperatures rise, the trees have few defenses, Six said.

She said she observed large stands being wiped out in three years, and “we don’t believe these trees are going to be coming back.”

Phillip van Mantgem, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said 87 percent of old growth stands that he and others on a research team are monitoring have shown increasing mortality rates, and that the rate doubled in the past 18 years.

“The ultimate cause behind it is probably warming,” van Mantgem said.

The team has monitored 76 stands throughout the Western for 20 years, tracking the health of individual trees.

Former Vice President Al Gore addressed the conference, defending climate researchers from criticism about their motives, the Aspen Daily News reported.

“I hear from some quarters that the scientists who are presenting this information to us are interested in making money and that they are making stuff up and hyping it in order to get research grants,” he said. “It is an insult to these men and women who were on this stage today.”

Gore shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize 2007 with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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