Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - Dr. Peter Kolb of the UM School of Forestry and MSU Extension spoke to KGVO News on Thursday about his fears for the millions of acres of forests throughout Montana and the west as this El Nino winter continues to impose its will on the western U.S.

Dr. Peter Kolb Expressed his Fears more about Wildfire than Insects

“I was just reviewing weather forecasts through NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and NASA and all of that, and we have a fairly substantial El Nino that has developed that is sending most of the moisture over the southern states, California, for example,” began Dr. Kolb.

Specifically, Dr. Kolb clarified his fears for the upcoming fire season.

“Rather than insects, I would be right at this point much more concerned about a severe wildfire season coming up because none of the forecasts indicate that we're going to get substantial moisture this winter or even spring and we're looking at projections for a hot and dry summer as well. So snowpack and a winter prolonged into the spring season usually reduces the risk of fire and early springs with projected warm weather is a pretty strong indicator for severe wildfire seasons coming up.”

Dr. Kolb said Insects were a Problem Because Killed so Many Trees

Dr. Kolb looked back at the recent history of the National Forests to a time when insects were a real problem, and that sets the stage for a possibly historic fire season to come.

“The bark beetle outbreak from about 2008 until 2015 killed about half the trees on over 5 million acres of National Forest,” he said. “Those trees are all now falling over and basically create a big bonfire type of scenario. So those are settings that with a dry winter like this, those big fuels will also dry out more because they won't get the snowpack on them, and when the big fuels are dried out in August, they increase the fire severity by an order of magnitude.”

Dr. Kolb Praised Private Forest Land Owners for their Stewardship

Dr. Kolb said private forest land owners who have properly maintained their land by cleaning out the dead timber and brush will for the most part avoid a possibly histories wildfire season.

Montana's Top 10 Record-Setting Wild Weather Events

Montana is named Big Sky Country for several reasons, not only grandiose Sunsets but impressive weather events as well! Ask any Montana resident who has scoffed at the idea of tossing a blanket or snow shovel in the trunk of the car ” just in case”. Here is a list of Montana's Top 10 Record-Setting Wild Weather Events

Gallery Credit: Brian Lee

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