Landscape of fire and insect affected forest near the Metolius River in Central Oregon.

Landscape of fire and insect affected forest near the Metolius River in Central Oregon.

Garrett Meigs/OSU

Northwest forests that have significant damage from insects, like the mountain pine beetle or the western spruce budworm, might seem more prone to wildfires. Those critters can chew their way through a forest and leave large stands of dead trees in their wake.

However a new study from Oregon State University shows that’s not necessarily the case.
 
“As an insect outbreak progresses, the forest is actually experiencing tree mortality, and that results in dead trees that have reduced foliage in the canopy,” said Garrett Meigs, a coauthor of  the study. “So you have less fuel available for a fire.”

Meigs looked at more than 30 years of fire and insect dynamics in the Northwest for the study. He said that when it comes to wildfire, drought and snowpack are probably more important factors than insect kills.