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The Death of Western Forests

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The impacts of climate change upon my beloved American West are only just beginning to be felt:

Colorado alone could lose 45% of its aspen stands over the next 45 years, says the report released Thursday by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization. Pine bark beetles alone have killed 46 million acres of trees across the west, an area nearly the size of Colorado.

“The wildfires, infestations and heat and drought stress are the symptoms; climate change is the underlying disease,” Jason Funk, the report’s co-author and a senior climate scientist at Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement.

Projections by the U.S. Forest Service that were included in the report, predict that if emissions of heat-trapping gases continue increasing at recent rates, by 2060 the area climatically suitable in the Rocky Mountains for lodgepole pine could decline by about 90%, for ponderosa pine by about 80%, for Engelmann spruce by about 66% and for Douglas fir by about 58%.

National forests and parks play a key role in the economies of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. National parks in those states, including Yellowstone and Glacier, host about 11 million visitors annually, generating $1 billion in tourist spending, the report, Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk, said. If the landscapes significantly change, tourists may no longer visit those areas, it said.

The last decades of my life are likely to be incredibly depressing.

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