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Report focuses on what Colorado needs to do after historic wildfires

The East Troublesome Fire viewed from Walden. Photo by Blair Rynearson, CSFS

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The Colorado State Forest Service published its annual forest health report this week, highlighting the current conditions of forests across Colorado and how the agency is improving the health of the state’s forests in the wake of historic wildfires.

After a devastating wildfire season, the report highlights the growing need to increase forest management across the state. It also takes a regional look at forest health, offering statistics, insect and disease trends, and successes in forest management specific to four quadrants of the state. As always, the report also offers a statewide outlook on trends in insect and disease activity in Colorado’s forests, as well as a look at the carbon storage problem in our state’s forests.

“Last year reminded us how important our forests are, as Coloradans escaped to forested areas in their communities and wildlands for tranquility, peace and a place to recreate and exercise,” said Mike Lester, state forester and director of the CSFS. “Colorado’s forests are experiencing many challenges, from longer fire seasons to ongoing drought to more people living in the wildland-urban interface. In this report, we take a look at what is needed to protect the many benefits our forests provide in the face of these challenges — and what the Colorado State Forest Service is doing to address them.”



2020 KEY FOREST TAKEAWAYS

The 2020 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests focuses on “Protecting Our Future After a Historic Wildfire Year.” Key takeaways from the report include:



· Living with Wildfire: The forest management needed to reduce wildfire risk to residents, lands, water supplies and economies is not happening fast enough. Colorado is primed to face the same types of uncharacteristic wildfires as last year unless an increase in the pace and scale of forest management is made a statewide priority, work is done more quickly and the buildup of beetle-killed and living fuels is addressed across the landscape in areas that can be accessed.

Colorado State Forest Service Forester Mke Till plants a seeding near La Veta. Photo by Luke Cherney, CSFS

· Carbon and Climate: Despite encompassing over 24 million acres, Colorado’s forests emit more carbon than they store. Our state is one of the five worst Lower 48 states in forest carbon emissions by some estimates. Colorado is contributing to a global problem, partly because our trees are not as healthy as they could be. Colorado’s forests need to be healthy in order to store carbon and mitigate climate change.

· Insects and Disease: The spruce beetle remains the most damaging forest pest in Colorado. The report details the state’s top forest insects and diseases — and how bark beetles may affect wildfire behavior. The report also contains a map of where forests affected by spruce and mountain pine beetles overlap with the burn perimeters of last year’s wildfires.

· FRWRM Grants: The Forest Restoration and Wildfire Risk Mitigation Grant Program continues to be a critical source of funding to address forest health issues on a local level. The report offers an example of how a state grant helped a community in Colorado Springs successfully mitigate its wildfire risk prior to the Bear Creek Fire in November.

REGIONAL PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS

· Northeast Area: The CSFS is working to keep in check a hyperactive invasive species that is pushing out native vegetation, degrading wildlife habitat and draining water at Jackson Lake State Park and the nearby Andrick Ponds and Jackson Lake state wildlife areas. The CSFS is removing about half of the Russian olives that line picnic areas, campsites and hunting spots.

· Southeast Area: Last year at Lake Pueblo State Park — one of the most popular state parks in Colorado with annual visitors exceeding 2.4 million — CSFS foresters assessed 191 trees over 200 acres of land to help keep park visitors safer. They focused on trees along trails and in campground areas, tagging those that posed safety concerns for mitigation by Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

Logs harvested during Mountain Pine Beetle Project in Gunnison County. Photo by Kellon Spencer

· Southwest Area: While time seemed to slow down for many last year with stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19, foresters in Gunnison County were in a rush to contain an outbreak of another kind — the mountain pine beetle in the Taylor Canyon area. Had the beetle continued to increase populations at a rapid pace within lodgepole pine tree stands in this area, the risk of a catastrophic wildfire in the forest would greatly increase.

· Northwest Area: In the southeast corner of Jackson County, the CSFS is improving the forest landscape at Owl Mountain while at the same time bolstering revenue for the timber industry. Despite a declining wood products industry in the state, the CSFS is helping sustain this local economy in northwest Colorado through a 376-acre project that is creating jobs for loggers and timber mills and generating revenue for state and federal agencies through a timber sale.

Each year, the forest health report provides information to the Colorado General Assembly and residents of Colorado about the health and condition of forests across the state. Information for the report is derived from an annual aerial forest health survey by the CSFS and U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, as well as field inspections, CSFS contacts with forest landowners and special surveys.

Copies of the 2020 report are available at all CSFS field offices. A PDF of the report and interactive maps of insect and disease activity are available at bit.ly/ForestHealthReport.


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