Massive Tree Die-Off in the Rockies

New study says climate change is to blame

Sep 11, 2014
Outside Magazine
rocky mountains climate change environment trees outside

The amount of land suitable to sustain major tree species in the Rocky Mountains is projected to decrease by at least 50 percent by 2060.    bgsmith/Thinkstock

A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists warns that the Rocky Mountains' iconic tree species are dying in unprecedented numbers and projects dramatic range reductions for these trees.

The primary causes of dying forests are drought, wildfires, and tree-killing insects, but the report singles out climate change as the root cause of these stressors.

The report focuses on species like the quaking aspen, which currently faces high mortality from heat and drought, and lodgepole pine, whose suitable range is expected to decline by as much as 90 percent by 2060.

The future is not necessarily barren mountains: Colorado Department of Natural Resources assistant director for parks, wildlife, and lands Lisa Dale told the Denver Post that despite “dramatic changes in forest composition,” the loss of particular species “doesn’t mean entire forests are dying.”

According to the study, however, it is unclear which species will replace the evergreens and aspens of the Rocky Mountains if global climate change proceeds unchecked.

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