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Restoration Efforts Make Progress In Colorado Forests

U.S. Forest Service
Beetle-damaged forests in Colorado

A long-term forest health improvement program that began in 2009 is making a difference in Colorado and other states, according to a report from the U.S. Forest Service.  

The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program is focused on 23 sites covering more than 1.4 million acres nationwide.  This includes a large swath of Front Range forest land within the Arapaho-Roosevelt and the Pike and San Isabel National Forests.

Efforts at the sites include thinning and other activities to improve forest health and wildlife habitat, while reducing the risk of wildfires.

The program encourages partnerships among state and federal forest workers, sawmill owners, conservationists, and local communities.

"The CFLRP is a groundbreaking approach to improving our nation’s forests, making communities safer, and bolstering local economies," USFSChief Tom Tidwell said in a statement.

Forest Service officials say the program has supported nearly 4,300 jobs nationwide, and is helping produce a sustainable timber supply for local sawmills. But its primary goal is improving the overall health of forests, which face many threats, said Sara Mayben, a renewable resources staff officer with the Pike and San Isabel National Forests.

"It’s about trying to create a more resilient forest that is more resistant to insects and disease, and also to these large, uncharacteristic wildfires we’ve been seeing over the last few years," said Mayben.

Representatives from the national forests help develop the plans, along with the Nature Conservancy and members of the Front Range Roundtable, a group that also works to cut wildfire danger. It’s a large and diverse group, Mayben said, that also includes people from the timber industry, elected officials, and environmental advocacy groups.

Credit U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Forest Service
Screencap of the CFLRP interactive map showing the Front Range project site

"We have a sub-team that’s focused just on the landscape restoration project," she said.  "We sit down with them on a monthly basis and go through the plans and review the data. We also go to field trips and look at how a project turned out."

They’ve also developed a monitoring plan [.pdf] to assess forest conditions and track the program’s progress – now midway through its 10-year timeline. The initial proposal called for treating 31,000 acres in Colorado.

"We started out slow so we could build some momentum, and to date we’ve treated 14,000 acres across this landscape," Mayben said. "By year 10 -- which is 2019 -- we will have treated [all of] the 31,000 acres."

The group has also been working hard over the first five years to define what improved forest health really means, Mayben said.

"We thought we had a really good definition of what 'restoration' looked like, but when we started putting together our monitoring plan it became evident that we needed to refine our definition," Mayben said. "We really do feel like in certain areas we’re honing in on what desired conditions look like. And that’s actually success for us, because that will carry us forward into the future, well beyond the project."

The five-year progress report [.pdf] is available here, plus aninteractive map of the 23 project sites nationwide.

As the host of KUNC’s new program and podcast In the NoCo, I work closely with our producers and reporters to bring context and diverse perspectives to the important issues of the day. Northern Colorado is such a diverse and growing region, brimming with history, culture, music, education, civic engagement, and amazing outdoor recreation. I love finding the stories and voices that reflect what makes NoCo such an extraordinary place to live.
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