RE: 2016 Colorado State Forest Service Forest Health Report

Colorado Forest Service - 2016  REPORT ON THE HEALTH OF COLORADO’S FORESTSThe Colorado State Forest Service recently issued their annual Forest Health report for the state and the conclusions of these impacts are staggering especially on water quality.  The Highlights of the 2016 report are as follows:

  • 8% of ALL trees in the state are dead and the rate of mortality is increasing;[1]
  • the total number of dead trees has increased 30% in the last 8 years;[2]
  • Research has shown that in mid-elevation forests on Colorado’s Front Range, hillslope sediment production rates after recent, high-severity wildfire can be up to 200 times greater than for areas burned at moderate to low severity.[3]
  • A 2011 study involved monthly monitoring of stream chemistry and sediment in South Platte River tributaries before and after fire,  and showed that basins that burned at high severity on more than 45 percent of their area had streams containing four times the amount of suspended sediments as basins burned less severely. This effect also remained for at least five years post-fire.[4]
  • High-severity wildfires responsible for negative outcomes are more common in  unmanaged forests with heavy fuel loads than in forests that have experienced naturally recurrent, low-intensity wildfires or prior forest treatments, such as thinning. It is far easier to keep water in a basin clean, from the source headwaters and through each usage by recipients downstream, than to try and restore water quality once it is degraded.[5]
  • During 2016’s Beaver Creek Fire, which burned 38,380 acres northwest of Walden, foresters and firefighters were given a glimpse into likely future challenges facing wildfire suppression and forest management efforts. These include longer duration wildfires due to the amount and arrangement of heavy fuels. Observations from fire managers indicated that instead of small branches  on live trees, the larger, dead fuels in jackstraw stands were the primary driver of fire spread…. “The hazards and fire behavior associated with this fuel type greatly reduce where firefighters can safely engage in suppression operations”[6]

Why does this matter to the motorized community?  Too often we are told that motorized recreation is a major threat to forest health and that route closure is needed to protect resources.   This type of a position completely lacks factual basis when compared with these threats.  There is simply no way motorized usage of any trail network can create 200 times more impact than a moderate intensity wildfire.  Land managers should be managing the primary threats to Colorado public lands rather than chasing artificially elevated priorities that will simply never off-set these impacts.



[2] 2016 Forest Health Report at pg 6

[3] 2016 Forest Health Report at pg 24

[4] 2016 Forest Health Report at pg 24

[5] 2016 Forest Health Report at pg 24

[6] 2016 Forest Health Report at pg 5