The Colorado State Forest Service provides technical forestry assistance, wildfire mitigation expertise and outreach and education to help landowners and communities achieve their forest management goals.
To achieve stewardship of Colorado’s diverse forest environments for the benefit of present and future generations
Who We Are
Established in 1955, the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) is a service and outreach agency of the Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University. Headquartered in Fort Collins, the agency provides staffing for the Division of Forestry within the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
We have approximately 100 (full-time and part-time); more than 70 seasonal employees; and 17 field offices throughout the state.
The CSFS is committed to providing timely, relevant forestry information and education to the citizens of Colorado to achieve resilient forests and communities. Using applied science, we have adapted our focus and approach throughout the decades in response to emerging forestry issues.
In Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, CSFS funding consisted of federal grants (40 percent), state general fund and state grants (26 percent), self-funded operations and other revenues (19 percent), and severance tax (15 percent), together totaling $14.6 million.
The Evolution of CSFS
In 1955, the Colorado General Assembly established the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) as a division of the Colorado State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, now known as Colorado State University.
A Glance Looking Back
In 1965, a decade after the CSFS was established, legislators expanded the agency’s responsibilities and designated the CSFS as the state entity to “provide for the protection of forest resources of the state from fire, insects and disease” and to educate private forest landowners in management techniques.
At the time of this expansion, the CSFS operated on a budget of $392,000 and had only 29 employees divided among six field districts and a state office. Primary program areas were forest management; rural fire assistance; insect and disease management; marketing and utilization; and timber resource inventory. The agency also operated a seedling tree nursery and a shop for repairing and refurbishing fire equipment.
Insect and disease concerns dominated the attention of the CSFS during the 1970s and led to significant increases in both personnel and funding. High-profile incidents included the spread of Dutch elm disease in many of the state’s urban areas, particularly the hard-hit city of Denver, and the tremendous expansion of mountain pine beetle populations along the Front Range and I-70 corridor. By 1975, the agency’s budget had reached $1.6 million and was almost evenly split between state and federal dollars.
The passage of the federal Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act of 1978 brought new program opportunities to all state forestry agencies by authorizing the suite of programs that continues to be the basis for cooperative forestry delivery today. In Colorado, the Act helped the CSFS roll its continuing Dutch elm disease activities into a new Community Forestry Program and launched the agency into the development of an Agency Master Plan, the precursor to current and ongoing strategic planning.
The late 1970s and early 1980s also solidified the relationship between the CSFS and the State Board of Land Commissioners. By 1980, the CSFS was working on state lands under 10-year “silvicultural leases” that covered CSFS’ costs and provided funding for additional forest land improvement projects.
Wildfire’s Growing Role
Although the agency had been involved in rural fire assistance for many years, it was not until 1989 that wildland fire began to take on the pervasive role it plays today. As early as 1966, the CSFS launched the Emergency Fire Fund (EFF) with 16 county contracts and contributions of $16,000. The 1978 Murphy Gulch Fire west of Denver marked the fund’s first use. The CSFS did not begin active participation in interagency incident management teams or the national red card qualification system until 1976.
A statewide Incident Command System came to Colorado in 1981, followed by the first initial attack aircraft and interagency fire response agreements in 1986. But it was the 1989 Black Tiger Fire in Boulder County that was a sign of things to come. That event was the worst in 30 years and resulted in the loss of 60 structures. The Black Tiger Fire received both EFF assistance and a FEMA disaster designation, only the second time such a designation was enacted in Colorado’s history.
Emerging Forestry Issues Lead to Increased Legislative Activity
As the CSFS entered the decade of the 1990s, legislative activity at the state and national level resulted in significant program changes. The Colorado General Assembly passed a tax relief measure in the spring of 1990 for forest landowners actively managing their property, and gave the CSFS responsibility for assessing subsequent applications and compliance. Known as the Forest Agricultural Program, landowners enrolled in the program are expected to actively manage their land following objectives identified in a forest management plan developed specifically for their property.
In addition to the Forest Agricultural Program, Congress finalized the 1990 Farm Bill, which included programs such as Forest Stewardship, Forest Legacy and Urban and Community Forestry, and resulted in a subsequent influx of new funding for state forestry agencies.
By 1995, the Colorado State Forest Service had 95 employees, 15 district offices and a total budget of $4.5 million. The trend toward wildland fire that began in 1989 continued throughout the 1990s, fueled by events such as the 1994 Storm King Fire, 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire and the onset of record drought conditions that increased forest fire susceptibility across the state.
Wildfire Becomes Highest Priority
The dramatic 2000 fire season launched the CSFS into a scale and pace of activity previously unknown to the agency. Approximately 123,000 fires burned more than 8.4 million acres nationwide and sparked an outcry of public concern. Then-Pres. Bill Clinton responded to this concern by directing the development of a National Fire Plan, which Congress later supported with substantial funding for fire preparedness and suppression, and hazardous fuels reduction. The CSFS annual budget increased from $6.8 million to $12.1 million in a single year.
With an estimated 1 million Coloradans living in areas at high risk from wildland fire, the CSFS focused much of its attention on the wildland-urban interface and on projects designed to reduce hazardous fuels through cross-boundary landscape-scale management. The 2002 fire season, the worst in the state’s recorded history prior to the 2012 fire season, underscored the need for this approach. More than 2,000 fires burned 502,000 acres, forced the evacuation of 81,000 residents and destroyed hundreds of homes and other structures.
The CSFS provides partners and private landowners with technical assistance focused on fuels mitigation and educational programs that help individuals and communities implement FireWise practices and develop and implement Community Wildfire Protection Plans.
In 2012, the Colorado General Assembly passed HB 1283, which transferred the CSFS Fire Division to the state’s Department of Public Safety, effective July 1, 2012. The primary purpose of the transfer was to streamline the planning, training, public risk messaging and emergency support functions between the departments of local affairs and public safety regarding homeland security and emergency management activities.
Transferring wildland fire command and control operations from Colorado State University to the Colorado Department of Public Safety allows the CSFS to further strengthen its role in providing technical forestry assistance. The role of the CSFS in providing scientifically sound forestry and wildfire prevention education and mitigation information remains central to our mission “to achieve stewardship of Colorado’s diverse forest environments for the benefit of present and future generations.”
Insect & Disease Issues
Although mountain pine beetle activity has subsided in tree mortality from MPB in the last few years, infestation is unprecedented in Colorado’s recorded history. The outbreak, which started on the Western Slope in the late 1990s, continued to spread eastward. In 2011, foresters observed an overall area of 752,000 acres of lodgepole, limber and ponderosa pine forests that had been killed by MPB. The outbreak has impacted 3.4 million acres of Colorado forestlands from 1996-2013 and caused widespread mortality.
Spruce beetle is another forest insect that is having a significant impact on Colorado’s forests. The beetle’s populations have expanded, impacting higher-elevation stands of Engelmann spruce. In 2015, spruce beetle infestations were detected on 409,000 acres across the state, expanding onto 182,000 acres of previously unaffected forests. In 2011, outbreaks were detected in several areas across the state, impacting a total area of 262,000 acres, compared to active infestations on 208,000 acres in 2010. A massive spruce beetle epidemic in the San Juan Mountains and upper Rio Grande Basin has been underway since 2002, expanding northward in 2010 and 2011. As a result, heavy spruce mortality now is visible throughout much of the northern half of the upper Rio Grande Basin. Since 1996, spruce beetle outbreaks have caused varying degrees of tree mortality on more than 1.5 million acres in Colorado.
In addition, the presence of western balsam bark beetle and root diseases native to subalpine fir forests has increased during the past two decades. Outbreaks of two defoliators of conifer trees – western spruce budworm western spruce budworm and Douglas-fir tussock moth – expanded in 2015. The area impacted by western spruce budworm, Colorado’s most widespread forest defoliator, increased from 178,000 acres in 2014 to approximately 312,000 acres in 2015.
Issues as these and other insect and disease concerns indicate landscape-level changes that will affect Colorado’s forests. The catastrophic events we are observing now will resolve themselves ecologically and another forest will follow. The question is how best to manage the next forest to achieve stewardship of Colorado’s forests for the benefit of present and future generations.
The Colorado State Forest Service places substantial emphasis on fuels mitigation to reduce wildfire hazards and on wildfire prevention education with the objective of reducing risks to people and communities, while simultaneously improving forest condition. The CSFS partners with numerous agencies and organizations throughout Colorado to provide the most current information so landowners can make informed decisions about how best to achieve their stewardship objectives, including fuels mitigation and wildfire prevention.
State legislation reflects the importance of managing our forests so they will continue to provide the benefits on which we rely, including water quality and quantity, wildlife habitat, wood products and recreational opportunities, to name a few. The CSFS and the public continue to benefit from the strong support the Colorado General Assembly provides on forestry issues.
Legislature has focused on the following forestry-related issues:
- Forest management and bark beetle mitigation efforts to salvage merchantable timber and reduce wildland fire-related risks.
- Promotion of a forest industry that supports landscape-scale forest management efforts, and local economies and infrastructure.
- Support for the use of long-term stewardship contracts and other opportunities, such as the Good Neighbor Authority, that will contribute significantly to fuels mitigation and forest restoration efforts.
The CSFS delivers a range of programs, including forest management, technical assistance with wildland fuels mitigation, urban and community forestry, and educational programs to assist the efforts of our partners and private landowners to reduce vegetative fuels and create healthy forest conditions. The CSFS also provides staff support to the Division of Forestry within the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, per legislation passed in 2000.
In 2006, realignments at Colorado State University resulted in a closer connection between the CSFS and the Warner College of Natural Resources (WCNR). As a service and outreach agency within the WCNR, CSFS collaborates with CSU’s natural resource faculty to transfer knowledge gained from applied research to land managers, private landowners and other stakeholder
Complex Forestry Issues Link Past with Present
Complex forestry issues throughout Colorado’s history, as well as development in the wildland-urban interface, increasing demands for timely forestry information, and competing demands for state and federal funding have created numerous challenges for the CSFS. To maintain the ability to continue delivering relevant, timely information and technical assistance to Coloradans, it is imperative that the Colorado State Forest Service consider these challenges and prioritize use of limited resources.
As history has demonstrated, the CSFS is flexible, resilient and responsive to changing needs. The agency also is recognized as a leader in providing forestry information and education to Coloradans. It’s a proud legacy on which to build the next 50 years of history.