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Evidence of warming seen across the west

Allen Best
Maisie Crow/Vail DailyThis aerial shot of the forest near Vail shows an area where trees were killed by mountain pine beetles. Some in the western U.S. and Canada believe drought has left forests more vulnerable to the beetles and other pests.
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JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – For the last five years, Ron Matous has been noticing the forests near Yellowstone National Park dying. It has become problematic for him. Once, looking for a place to camp, he had to go nearly to timberline to find a place where he wouldn’t worry about the wind blowing a tree down on him as he slept.The cause, he suggests in a column in the Jackson Hole News & Guide, is a drought that has now lasted 10 to 15 years. What seems to have happened is that the conifers are now weakened by lack of moisture and hence more subject to epidemics. But it’s not just one insect, and there is no easy solution – if any.”There’s a misconception that we’re dealing with a single insect – spruce budworm, for example – that can be controlled by spraying or other methods,” Will Lanier, an insect diagnostician from Montana, told him.

“The fact of the matter is, our forests have been severely weakened by drier conditions over the last 10 to 15 years, and there are at least 20 different varieties of pests – fungus, beetles, moths and their larva – that have always been in residence but don’t have much effect on healthy trees. Drought-stricken trees are incapable of producing enough sap to heal over the damage done by the pests, and eventually they die.”Insects are a result of a forest’s decline, not the cause, Lanier said. The forests are not dying because of blight, bugs, or fungus; the forests are dying because of drought, and drying trees are easy targets.Taking a much broader view, Matous notes the changing climate. As such, what we now think of as “normal” was, in fact, at some point new. And our climate could be changing now, perhaps to a future in which the mountains of the West are covered in grass and sagebrush rather than trees.Late-changing aspens

Weather in most ski towns of the West remained warm, seemingly unseasonably so, through September. Experienced local eyes seemed to think the aspens began changing colors later, with the peak show delayed.That jibes with a new report by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization. The new group, which was created last year to advocate for actions to come to grips with global warming, reports an examination of weather records reveals the last five years were the hottest of the last 110 years across much of the West.Temperatures were 2.1 degrees higher in the Upper Colorado River Basin (which includes Eagle County), 2.4 degrees warmer in the Rio Grande Basin and 1.5 degrees warmer in both the Missouri and Columbia River basins.These temperatures, the report says, “coincided with and worsened the effects of the recent West-wide drought by increasing evaporation rates from streams and reservoirs, soil and dryness and the water needs of corps and other plants.”

The report also concluded that the greatest warming – coinciding with the predictions of global warming theory – has occurred in January, February and March. That should be no surprise in Vail and Aspen, where rain has occurred several times during mid-winter for the last several years, something that almost never occurred in decades past.Vail, Colorado


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