Fact Sheet: Forest Health and Wildfire Risk

Page 1

MAY 2021

FACT SHEET

Forest Health and Wildfire Risk Increasing Wildfire Risk The smoke, fire and evacuations that signal Colorado’s fire season are a summer norm, but in recent years, wildfires have grown more frequent, intense, large and destructive. The 20 largest fires in the state’s history have all burned since 2000, with the three biggest ignited in 2020. Before development, wildland fires played a natural, healthy role in many ecosystems. They burned more frequently, thus the intensity and scale of fires was more limited, and they enabled fire-adapted plants and ecosystems to thrive. But today, decades of fire suppression, fuel buildup, development in close proximity to wildlands (known as the wildland-urban interface or WUI), increases in forest insect and disease infestations, and climate change, among other

factors, have caused an increase in size, severity and duration of wildfires. Fires are expected to continue getting worse. A 50% to 200% increase in the area burned in Colorado each year is projected by 2050, according to the 2017 Colorado State Forest Service and Colorado Water Conservation Board report “Forest Management to Protect Colorado’s Water Resources.” Today, fires threaten not only homes, infrastructure and human lives, but also the water that people depend on. Even in mountain forests, away from civilization, blazes can load rivers and reservoirs with sediment, nutrients and toxins, impacting water supplies, river and watershed health, and water conveyances or other infrastructure.

JACKSON

Cameron Peak

MOFFAT

1

208,913 acres

ROUTT

2012

High Park

7

87,284 acres

2020

East Troublesome

2

193,812 acres

BOULDER GRAND

RIO BLANCO

GILPIN

2020

JEFFERSON

CLEAR CREEK

Pine Gulch

EAGLE

GARFIELD

139,007 acres

SUMMIT

DENVER

2002

PITKIN

LAKE

Ten Largest Wildfires in Colorado History

ARAPAHOE Acres

WASHINGTON

burned by year since 2000

ELBERT

DOUGLAS

KIT CARSON

4

PARK

MESA

LINCOLN

TELLER

CHEYENNE

EL PASO

DELTA

PHILLIPS

The state’s ten largest fires on reMORGAN occurred since 2000 with cord have seven of them happening in the last 10 years. The red circles indicate the number of acres burned in proporADAMS tion to one another. The locations YUMA are approximate.

WELD

Hayman

137,760 acres

3

SEDGWICK

LOGAN

LARIMER

2020

CHAFFEE

GUNNISON

FREMONT

MONTROSE

KIOWA CROWLEY

OURAY

2002

SAN MIGUEL

MissionaryHINSDALE West Fork Complex Ridge

70,485 acres

DOLORES

SAN JUAN

2018

MONTEZUMA

PUEBLO

2013

416 Fire

5

Spring Creek 108,045 acres

HUERFANO RIO GRANDE

6

ALAMOSA

2008

ARCHULETA

OTERO

BENT

PROWERS

Bridger

45,800 acres 10

MINERAL

BACA

54,129 acres LA PLATA

Source: tinyurl.com/wbwzbhah

2018

109,615 acres

9 8

CUSTER

SAGUACHE

CONEJOS

COSTILLA

LAS ANIMAS


Forest Management for Fire Prevention

Toll of Wildfires in Colorado

Forest management can improve forest health, reduce the severity of fire, limit erosion and water quality impacts, and protect human safety, homes and infrastructure. Some management strategies include: Fuel breaks and fire breaks Sections of vegetation or soil meant to slow, control or stop a fire. These are often used to create a defensible area and buffer to protect development and critical water resources, reducing wildfire intensity and hazards. Fuels reduction treatments Tree thinning, dead wood removal, and prescribed burns used to reduce the severity of wildfires and protect targeted locations, resources and watersheds. While effective, these treatments aren’t always feasible in close proximity to developments. Collaboration for landscape-scale treatment When federal, state, local and private entities work together to identify treatment needs and priorities across management boundaries ignored by fire. Roughly 65% of Colorado’s forests are managed by the federal government, 30% are in private ownership, and 5% are managed by other entities.

3,782,787 acres have burned in Colorado between 2000 and 2020 or about 15 percent of the state's 24.5 million forested acres

Ten percent of Colorado’s 24 million acres of forests need urgent attention to address forest health, wildfire risk, and threats to water supplies— at a cost of ~$4.2 billion

744,120 acres burned in Colorado’s 2020 fires alone…

including the largest fire in Colorado’s history— the Cameron Peak fire, which burned 208,913 acres

26 municipal water storage facilities were shut down due to fire impacts after the 2020 fire season

Communities Tackle Forest Treatment About 80% of Coloradans rely on forested watersheds to deliver municipal water supplies. With increased fire incidence, various efforts are underway to minimize fire risk through forest treatments. Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs) are locally drafted to reduce fuels and address concerns. Colorado’s SB 09-100 set the intention for all counties with fire hazards to create a CWPP. As of May 2021, there were 249 CWPPs on the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) website, but 94% of them are over five years old. Other forest management efforts are spearheaded by water providers and stakeholders partnering with state and federal agencies to protect their water. Such partnerships include Forests to Faucets, the Colorado-Big Thompson Headwaters Partnership, the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team, the Dolores Watershed Resilient Forest Collaborative, the San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership, and others.

RESOURCES Forest Management to Protect Colorado’s Water Resources report: tinyurl.com/aee6ya7e 2020 Colorado Forest Action Plan: tinyurl.com/nmvcd4nz Colorado Forest Atlas: tinyurl.com/p93ssnev Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center: tinyurl.com/wbwzbhah After the Flames: aftertheflames.com

Produced by Water Education Colorado, an independent and nonpartisan nonprofit working to ensure Coloradans are informed on water issues, in collaboration with its news initiative, Fresh Water News.

1600 Downing St., Suite 200 Denver, CO 80218 (303) 377-4433 Copyright 2021 by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education DBA Water Education Colorado. www.watereducationcolorado.org