California is currently in the midst of a record-breaking drought and its forests are undergoing massive die-offs. This extensive tree mortality will drastically alter fuel loads, likely changing fire behavior and severity in fire-prone ecosystems and in the wildland-urban interface. Minimal information is currently available for post-bark beetle outbreak fuels data for use in fire behavior models, particularly for high levels of mortality in pinyon, ponderosa and Jeffrey pine and mixed conifer stands. Most work on bark beetle impacts to fuel loading has focused on mountain pine beetle in lodgepole pine, and there is extremely limited information for other forest types. High levels of tree mortality can rapidly alter fuel complexes, potentially resulting in increased fuel hazard which foster more intense and severe future fires. Dead pine trees in the red stage alter canopy fuel availability and may have higher ignition potential and burn more intensely. Surface fuel loading also may increase as foliage, branches, and trees decompose following successful bark beetle attacks.
For more information on this project, visit https://www.firelab.org/project/california-tree-mortality