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Thinning backcountry unlikely to reduce fire risk or lessen beetle outbreaks, largely fueled by drought and higher temperatures.

For Immediate Release
March 2, 2010

Scott Hoffman Black, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, (503) 449-3792,
Dominik Kulakowski, Clark University; (508) 793-7383,
Barry Noon, Colorado State University; (970) 491-7905,
Dominick DellaSala, National Center for Conservation Science Policy; (541) 621-7223,

DENVER – Forest ecologists warned leaders today that plans to log beetle-killed trees in remote backcountry, instead of implementing fuel reduction efforts directly adjacent to communities, will not make people safe and will squander scarce tax dollars.

A new scientific report released today suggests that bark beetle outbreaks will not lead to greater fire risk, and that tree thinning and logging is not likely to alleviate future large-scale epidemics of bark beetle.

The report also indicates that tree cutting in designated roadless areas protected under the national 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule is not likely keep communities safe from wildfire, according to Insects and Roadless Forests: A Scientific Review of Causes, Consequences and Management Alternatives.

The report is based on years of field research and a comprehensive scientific literature review. Findings from the report, which is available online, also apply to millions of acres of lodgepole pine and spruce-fir forests across North America.

Report authors suggest that the limited funds available to mitigate fire risk for vulnerable communities would be most effective if used to create defensible space around homes, including using flame retardant building materials and removing brush and trees within several hundred feet of homes.

Additionally, any building of temporary or permanent roads in roadless areas to combat beetle outbreaks could have substantial “short- and long-term ecological costs,” the report’s authors found. Those costs could include damage to wildlife and water, increased wildfire risk and the introduction of invasive species.

The National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, an Ashland, Ore.,-based nonprofit organization, is releasing the report. Its authors include professors at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., and Clark University in Worcester, Mass., along with experts at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Ore., and the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy. (See their biographies below).

The report’s release comes as the West continues to face the worst outbreak of beetles in centuries. In recent years, bark beetle outbreaks have killed millions of acres of lodgepole pines throughout the West with Colorado at the epicenter.

“Drought and high temperature are likely the overriding factors behind the current bark beetle epidemic in the western United States,” said Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and lead author of the report. “Because logging and thinning cannot effectively alleviate the overriding effects of climate, it will do little or nothing to control these outbreaks.”

Insect outbreaks and fires are a natural part of the ecology of western forests. And the report found no causal link between insect outbreaks and the incidence of wildfires. It also suggests that insect outbreaks in backcountry forests and roadless areas are unlikely to heighten fire risk in adjacent communities.

“Fires in lodgepole pine and spruce-fir forests, such as those found in Colorado, are primarily determined by weather conditions,” said Dominik Kulakowski, a professor of Geography and Biology at Clark University. “The best available science indicates that outbreaks of bark beetles in these forests have little or no effect on fire risk, and may actually reduce it in certain cases.”

The report also suggests, “tree-cutting is not likely to control ongoing bark beetle outbreaks.” Nor will it be “likely to alleviate future large-scale epidemics,” according to the report.

The report’s findings come as Colorado officials move to finalize a plan to be considered by the U.S. Forest Service that would exempt the state from the 2001 national rule. The Colorado plan, while protecting some roadless areas, would allow new road construction and timber-cutting to battle beetles and to reduce fire-risk from insect infected trees.

Colorado is one of two states that has pursued a state-based approach to protect its roadless areas. That is an option the Bush administration created in the wake of its rollback of the 2001 roadless rule, which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld last year. The Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is currently reviewing a separate challenge of the 2001 rule.

According to report authors, the 2001 national rule allows sufficient flexibility to protect roadless backcountry while allowing local land managers to address public health and safety concerns, including fire.

“The science is clear. Unless preventive measures are aimed at creating defensible space around homes, the federal government will be shoveling taxpayer money down a black hole,” said Dominick DellaSala, a report author and president and chief scientist for the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy. “Logging in the backcountry will do little to prevent insect infestations or reduce fire risks, and it will not solve Colorado’s concerns over dying trees.

“Colorado’s pristine roadless areas are best protected for their clean water and unbridled fish and wildlife recreational opportunities,” DellaSala said.

A copy of the report is available online at or


Report authors

Scott Black is executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. He has degrees in ecology, plant science, and entomology from Colorado State University. He has extensive experience in endangered-species conservation, pollinator conservation, macroinvertebrate monitoring, and forest and range management issues. He is also the author of "Logging to Control Insects: The Science and Myths Behind Managing Forest Insect Pests: A Synthesis of Independently Reviewed Research." Scott has presented to universities across the United States, as well as to international meetings and the National Academy of Sciences.

Dominik Kulakowski is currently a professor of Geography and Biology at Clark University in Massachusetts and` formerly worked as a research scientist at the University of Colorado. He has been conducting research on the interactions between bark beetle outbreaks and forest fires in Colorado for over a decade.

Barry Noon is a professor of wildlife ecology at Colorado State University. Dr. Noon has studied forest wildlife and the effects of land-use practices on wildlife for over 30 years. He has provided input to management decisions of federal public lands numerous times during his career, with a particular focus on the conservation of threatened and endangered species.

Dominick DellaSala is president and chief scientist of the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, which uses science to predict and prepare for climate change. Dominick has a Ph.D. in Natural Resources from University of Michigan. His expertise is in forest and fire ecology, endangered species management, and climate change science. Dominick is also incoming President of the North American Section of the Society for Conservation Biology.

The Xerces Society is a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. Established in 1971, the Society is at the forefront of invertebrate protection worldwide, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programs. To learn more about our work, please visit

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