Report: What Colorado needs to do after historic wildfires

The Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) published its annual forest health report March 1, 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.

Mike Lester, state forester and director of the CSFS, said 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.

“Colorado’s forests are experiencing many challenges, from longer fire seasons to ongoing drought to more people living in the wildland-urban interface,” he said. “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.”

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.

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.

Forest Restoration and Wildfire Risk Mitigation Grants

This 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.

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

The Colorado State Forest Service provides professional forestry assistance, wildfire mitigation expertise, and outreach and education to help landowners and communities achieve their forest management goals. The CSFS is a service and outreach agency of the Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University and provides staffing for the Division of Forestry within the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. For more information, visit csfs.colostate.edu.