FORT COLLINS, Colo. – The 2018 fire season saw more acres burned in Colorado than any other year except 2002. While hundreds of homes were lost, forest management actions intended to help protect communities from wildfires and other threats proved effective in efforts to save lives and property.

The 2018 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests (2 MB PDF), which the Colorado State Forest Service distributed to legislators at the State Capitol today, highlights these and other facts related to forest management in the state.

Each year, forest health reports provide information to the Colorado General Assembly and residents of Colorado about the health and condition of forests across the state.

Information for the reports is derived from an annual aerial forest health survey by the CSFS and the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service, as well as field inspections, CSFS contacts with forest landowners and special surveys.

The theme of the 2018 report is “Protecting Our Communities.” It offers a special focus on how pre-emptive forest management efforts by the CSFS and key partners, which include the U.S. Forest Service, Denver Water, Northern Colorado Water and county governments, were effective last year in reducing wildfire risk to communities.

Foresters aid community protection

Highlighted in the report are two summer wildfires – the Buffalo Fire near Silverthorne and the Golf Course Fire near Grand Lake – that did not result in loss of life or structures in threatened subdivisions, in part because of proactive forest management actions. Firefighters halted the progress of both fires in fuelbreaks where vegetation had previously been thinned or removed specifically to alter fire behavior.

“When we think about community protection, for good reason the first people who come to mind are firefighters, police officers and emergency services personnel who are there when we need them,” said Mike Lester, state forester and director of the Colorado State Forest Service. “But foresters and land managers are also ensuring our protection, by addressing potential disasters before they ever happen.”

Two communities in southern Colorado also benefited in 2018 from prior engagement with the CSFS, in the form of becoming Firewise USA® sites.

Work completed by a neighborhood northwest of Durango paid off during the 416 Fire, when the incident management team took advantage of previous efforts to make structures more defensible.

Another Firewise USA community in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains was not as fortunate in the face of the 108,000-acre Spring Creek Fire. However, its residents say they likely lost fewer homes than they might have if the community had not taken steps to help protect them.

Spruce beetle most destructive

Other highlights from this year’s forest health report include:

  • Besides helping to protect communities from wildfire, the CSFS helps protect people and trees themselves in urban and community settings. This is accomplished in part through inventories that identify hazard trees at risk of failure and those that could be impacted by destructive insect pests.
  • From the water year of October 2017 to September 2018, Colorado experienced the warmest annual temperatures on record, and the second-driest water year dating back 124 years. These dramatic climatic deviations played a powerful role in shaping wildfire and forest insect and disease activity.
  • For the seventh consecutive year, Colorado’s most widespread and destructive forest insect pest was the spruce beetle. A total of 178,000 acres of active infestations occurred in the state’s high-elevation Engelmann spruce forests in 2018. This insect has now affected more than 1.8 million cumulative acres since 2000, with approximately 40 percent of the state’s spruce-fir forest ecosystems affected.
  • Populations of roundheaded pine beetle, along with closely associated bark beetles, continued to expand exponentially in Dolores County, with 27,000 acres impacted in 2018.

Copies of the 2018 report are available at all CSFS field offices and downloadable at csfs.colostate.edu.