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Report: Don't Blame Forest Bugs for Idaho Fires

March 11, 2010

BOISE, Idaho - a new report from the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, finds pine bark beetle outbreaks are not directly related to a higher risk of wildfire. Forest backcountry fires in Idaho and throughout the West are often blamed on the beetles, under the assumption that diseased and dead trees present an increased fire risk.

Report author, Dr. Dominick Kulakowski, professor of geography and biology at Clark University, explains the bottom line is that drought and higher temperatures fuel backcountry fires - not bugs.

"Drought conditions are so important to the occurrence of wildfires, that whatever effects bark beetle outbreaks have are largely overwritten."

The report suggests that the limited money available to reduce forest fire risk be spent instead on protecting communities at the edge of the forests; a plan Kulakowski calls more cost-effective than backcountry tree-cutting projects.

"The best strategy is to clear away fuels and other flammable material from the vicinity of our homes, and make sure we use non-flammable materials on our homes as much as possible."

Western forests are seeing the largest beetle outbreaks in decades, with millions of acres of lodgepole pines killed.

The full report, Insects and Roadless Forests: A Scientific Review of Causes, Consequences and Management Alternatives, is at www.nccsp.org.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - ID