Lisa Floyd started researching piñon pine and juniper at the historic park in 1989 for her doctoral dissertation at the University of Colorado.She is now a professor at Prescott College in Arizona.
Over nearly two decades, she
focused on how fire and drought affect the trees.Her
past conclusions have startled some, she
said, and her
latest are frightening.
People called her
study showing piñon and juniper stands have a 400-year cycle "the craziest thing we've ever heard," she
said, because they expected it to be much shorter.A fire cycle is defined as the time it takes for a whole area to burn, generally with several fires.
developed a simulation model that suggests the 400-year cycle may drop to a 45-year cycle that will prevent new piñon and juniper plants from growing once fire burns them.Floyd
has watched fire whittle away Mesa Verde's old growth forest, with major burns occurring in 1996, 2000, 2002 and 2003.Though many worried the frequency of the fires was the beginning of a new pattern, her
studies showed otherwise.
However, Floyd spotted an unusual aftermath: An invasive plant called cheatgrass rapidly sprouted wherever fire razed the piñon-juniper woodlands.
"It's making a march all through Colorado," Floyd
described cheatgrass as a fine fuel that lights and spreads easily, fanning fires.That's a problem, she
said, because it increases the likelihood of fires and gives piñon pine and juniper less opportunity to regrow after a fire.
did point out that her
predictions were a model, not a fact.
"It's a good tool, but it can be wrong," she