A study released this month in Natural Areas Journal suggests that bark beetles do not increase the risk of forest fires in Western pine and spruce forests, and instead the culprit is climate change and in some cases, poor forestry management.
Researchers from conservation groups and universities say forest fires do not coincide with previous or current beetle killed trees, but instead with extended drought conditions caused by climate change.
Co-author Dominick DellaSala of the Geos Institute in Oregon says one of their most surprising findings is that thinning trees does not seem to prevent future fires.
“And in fact, if you do logging after the bug kill or after a forest fire you can actually intensify or magnify the severity of damage to these forests,” DellaSala says.
The study shows that damage is intensified by heavy logging equipment which can compact the soil and damage the roots of otherwise healthy trees.
Instead of thinning forests, DellaSala and his coauthors encourage forest management practices that focus on protecting roads, homes, and urban areas, including creating a 40 meter zone around structures.