The Colorado Forest Restoration Institute in the Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University has received $250,000 in federal funding to support its activities in restoring the health of low-elevation forests to reduce risks of severe wildfire.
The institute was launched in 2004 after Congress authorized the establishment of ecological restoration institutes in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico through the Southwest Forest Health and Wildfire Prevention Act. Bipartisan support in both the Senate and House of Representatives recognized the immediate needs of Southwestern forests for active restoration to reduce the risk of severe wildfires and to restore forest health.
Low elevation forests of ponderosa pine developed in the past with frequent surface fires that favored open forests with grassy understories. Without these relatively mild fires, small and medium-sized trees have filled in the gaps between the big, old trees. Long-term residents may not have noticed these gradual changes, but a million acres of low-elevation forests have changed so much that wildfire behavior will be more severe than in the past.
More than $200 million has been spent to suppress forest fires in Colorado since 2000. Colorado’s largest recorded wildfire, the Hayman fire in 2002, burned over 130,000 acres in the headwaters of the South Platte River.
The Colorado Forest Restoration Institute at Colorado State aims to restore the health of Colorado forests and reduce catastrophic wildfires by providing the best available science in forest ecology, restoration and management in ways that are readily usable by the diverse group of land managers in Colorado.
The Southwest Forest Health and Wildfire Prevention Act was enacted to help ensure that the best available science is used to develop and implement comprehensive, restoration-based forest treatments. The bill established three institutes, one each in Colorado at Colorado State University, Arizona at Northern Arizona University and New Mexico at New Mexico Highlands University.