Pine beetle outbreak and the water supply
A new study suggests that mountain pine beetle outbreak may lead to increased snow pack and water supply.
Friday, June 10, 2011 - 10:44
SEEING RED: The mountain pine beetle plays an important part in the regrowth of forests, but it can also prematurely kill trees, like the red ones in this photo. (Photo: Tim Gage)
A new study out of the University of Colorado suggests that mountain pine beetle outbreak may correlate with earlier snowmelt and increased water yields. Evan Pugh, a doctoral student at CU, is heading the research. Data was collected in Rocky Mountain National Park during the 2009 and 2010 winter seasons. The study found that snow accumulation was about 15 percent higher under trees killed by pine beetles then living trees. This is due the lack of green needles that accumulate snow in the tree's branches and canopy.
A lack of needles in the trees allows more snow to accumulate on the ground and more sunlight to reach the ground and melt the snow. The dead trees will not need water for growth, which allows more water to infiltrate through the soil. Pugh predicts that pine beetle kill may lead to increased flooding, but also an increased water supply. I am doubtful of how beneficial this will be, as earlier snowmelt will make storage for late summer demand more difficult.