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News Release

Date: February 9, 2012

Scientific study on flammability of mountain pine beetle-attacked lodgepole pine forests published

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – The international Elsevier Forest Ecology and Management Journal recently published a scientific study, Relationships between moisture, chemistry, and ignition of Pinus contorta needles during the early stages of mountain pine beetle attack, written by the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station research ecologist Dr. W. Matt Jolly in collaboration with seven RMRS co-authors. The study focuses on the foliage characteristics and flammability of lodgepole pine needles during the early stages of a mountain pine beetle attack.

Previously, little was known about the physical and chemical changes that occur in lodgepole pine foliage when mountain pine beetle-attacked trees die. Additionally, there was no documented evidence that showed how these changes affect the flammability of an attacked tree’s foliage.

In this study, Dr. Jolly and co-authors Dr. Russ Parsons, Ann Hadlow, Greg Cohn, Dr. Sara S. McAllister, John B. Popp, Dr. Robert Hubbard and Dr. Jose Negron took a “rapid response” approach to the problem managers were having in interpreting conflicting science reports on mountain pine beetle-attacked forest-fire interactions. They combined field sampling, laboratory analysis and bench-scale ignition experiments to prepare this paper. They showed that the foliage of mountain pine beetle-attacked trees has significantly less moisture and a different chemical composition which makes that foliage more flammable when compared to that of healthy trees. The study contributes key fuels information to existing fire behavior models to better understand how foliage flammability changes during the early stages of mountain pine beetle attack and how an attack will influence the likelihood of crown fire. This information is vital to wildland fire operations in mountain pine beetle-attacked forests to help ensure the development of safe and effective fire management strategies.

Dr. Jolly was hired in 2011 to do ecophysiology, the science of the interrelationships between the physiology of organisms and their environment or as RMRS Fire, Fuel, and Smoke science program manager Colin Hardy put it, “a plant person who thinks like a fire.” In addition to this paper, Jolly has published 20 other peered-reviewed journal articles, nine as the lead author. Also to his credit is Elsevier’s 2005 Environmental Modelling & Software Journal Best Paper Award for his article, “A flexible, integrated system for generating meteorological surfaces derived from point sources across multiple geographic scales.”

The article is available online at www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_other/rmrs_2012_jolly_w001.pdf.

The RMRS is one of seven regional units that make up the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development organization – the most extensive natural resources research organization in the world. The Station maintains 12 field laboratories throughout a 12-state territory encompassing the Great Basin, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and parts of the Great Plains, and administers and conducts research on 14 experimental forests, ranges, and watersheds, while maintaining long-term databases for these areas. Our research is broken into seven science program areas that serve the Forest Service as well as other federal and state agencies, international organizations, private groups and individuals. To find out more about the RMRS go to www.fs.fed.us/rmrs.


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