Residents of Colorado Springs and surrounding communities will benefit from a new forest restoration project aimed at reducing wildfire risks and improving forest health. The project will focus on approximately 1,000 acres on the North Slope of Pikes Peak in the vicinity of the headwaters for Fountain Creek. Local organizations including Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU), the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP), Catamount Center, and Colorado College will receive part of the $450,000 grant awarded to the project through a national partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy. Other partners in the project include the Colorado State Forest Service, the Palmer Land Trust and the Pike and San Isabel National Forests.
“Colorado Springs Utilities has a long history of pro-actively managing our forested watersheds to reduce wildfire risks, protect water supplies, and enhance recreation and wildlife values,” said Eric Howell, Water Natural Resource Planner with CSU. “We are excited to be part of this new project which will enable us to treat some very high priority areas on our own land and to contribute to a collaborative effort that will have lasting benefit to our customers.”
“The ten year anniversary of the 2002 Hayman Fire serves as a vivid reminder of how much we have to lose when we don’t improve the condition of our forests and build fire resistant landscapes around our homes and communities,” said Carol Ekarius, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte. “This is a great opportunity for us to not only expand on community-based wildfire risk reduction, but to also create healthier forests and continue the work we’ve been doing around Woodland Park and other areas within the Upper South Platte watershed over the past several years.”
Although they may appear green and healthy, many ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests across Colorado’s Front Range could be only a few dry windy days away from a devastating wildfire. Nearly a century of aggressive fire suppression, combined with drought, human development near the forest and other factors, has largely eliminated the natural cycles of fire that once burned regularly through these forests, consuming grass, shrubs and small patches of trees, initiating new growth, and promoting overall diversity and resilience.
As a result, many forests have become overly dense, extremely stressed by competition for sunlight, water and other essential nutrients and highly vulnerable to unnaturally large and damaging wildfire, insect and disease events. Through this new forest restoration project, a variety of management treatments will be used to improve these conditions and return fire to a more natural role in these landscapes.
“When wildfires occur under these forest conditions they threaten lives, homes, and many of the natural benefits on which our quality of life depends, such as clean water, quality wildlife habitat and unique recreational opportunities,” said Tim Sullivan, Colorado State Director for The Nature Conservancy. “We must take every opportunity to ensure our forests are as healthy and resilient as possible in the face of change.”
The Upper Fountain Creek Watershed Restoration Project is one of six such projects across the country made possible through a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy. Known as Scaling Up to Promote Ecosystem Resiliency (SPER), this partnership is focused on demonstrating the value of implementing forest restoration treatments on private, local and other non-federal lands in order to expand the overall positive impact of similar treatments on U.S. Forest Service land.
“This project will directly complement forest management we have planned through our Catamount Forest Health and Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project,” said Jeff Underhill, Silviculturalist for the Pike and San Isabel National Forests and Comanche-Cimarron National Grasslands. “By improving forest conditions on both sides of the ownership boundary, we improve the chances that these landscapes will be able to survive and thrive when faced with large-scale disturbance.”
Students from Colorado College and the Catamount Center will begin collecting pre-treatment monitoring data in the project area in June. Project implementation is expected to begin on the CSU portion of the project in July.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
The Nature Conservancy
Colorado Springs Utility
Coalition for the Upper South Platte
U.S. Forest Service