Al Gore to keynote Aspen symposium linking climate change, beetle kill

Former Vice President Al Gore will be in Aspen in February to attend what’s believed to be one of the first major public symposiums linking global climate change to the deteriorating health of forestland in the American West due to ongoing insect infestations and the growing threat of wildfire.

“Forests At Risk: Climate Change & the Future of the American West” is scheduled for Feb. 18 at the Doerr-Hosier Center on the campus of the Aspen Institute. Gore, a Democrat, Nobel laureate and Oscar-winning advocate for reversing the impacts of global climate change, will be the keynote speaker.

Harris Sherman, former head of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources and current Obama administration undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and environment (with oversight of the U.S. Forest Service), will kick off the event, which is sponsored by the Aspen-based nonprofit For The Forest.

Several scientists and forest health experts will also speak and conduct workshops throughout the day, culminating in the keynote address by Gore. Deteriorating forest health and the looming threat of catastrophic wildfires were hot topics this summer and fall as major blazes raged in and around Boulder and Winter Park – areas hit by an ongoing mountain pine bark beetle epidemic.

The outbreak is at least partially the result of warmer temperatures that allow beetle larvae to survive the winter months. Drought and warmer summer temperatures also stress lodgepole pines and limit their ability to repel the insects, which ultimately will kill up to 90 percent of the mature lodgepole pines in the state.

There is some debate about whether beetle-killed forests are more susceptible to wildfires and what steps should be taken to mitigate the situation, but most firefighters agree the red, dead trees burn hotter, making it difficult to fight blazes in increasingly populated mountain areas.

Some scientists predict up to half the forests in the American West will be lost to disease and fire during this century.

“Our forests are changing — and quickly,” John Bennett, executive director of For The Forest, said in a release. “While different superficial causes exist, the bottom-line common denominator appears to be the warmer forest temperatures we’re seeing across the West. Increased forest mortality is another calling card of climate change.”

The Aspen symposium, according to Bennett, will try to “reframe the national dialogue about climate change in personal terms that people can relate to. Some people in Colorado may wonder what significance melting glaciers in Antarctica or rising sea levels in the South Pacific have to their lives in the Rocky Mountains, but when they see millions of acres of forests dying across the state, they know immediately why it matters.”

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About the Author

David O. Williams

David O. Williams is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy,
environmental and political issues for the Colorado Independent since
2008, delivering impact journalism on a wide range of topics. A former
editor for the Vail Daily and Vail Trail, Williams’ work also has
appeared in numerous publications since 1988, including the New York
Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He appears periodically as a
guest on Rocky Mountain PBS and David Sirota’s show on 760 AM in
Denver. Williams is the founder, part owner and editor of Real Vail
and Real Aspen.

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