When the Hayman Fire erupted in Colorado 20 years ago this week (June 8, 2002), it incinerated 138,000 acres of forest. Although many thought at the time that this was an anomaly – burning bigger, faster and hotter than most fire managers thought possible and thus diminishing the ability of natural vegetation to regenerate – this turned out to be a harbinger of the region’s future fire regime. Lessons learned from the Hayman fire, however, led to systemic changes in forest management and post-fire restoration efforts that helped many Western communities recover from equally unusual fires and begin building. more resilient forests.
For starters, the Hayman fire brought much needed attention to the effects of post-fire erosion and flooding. “It spurred us to act because we saw not only the effects of the fire, but also the erosion and flooding after the fire which was more damaging than the fire itself,” said Brian Banks , the South Platte River District Ranger, to the Pikes Peak Courier. . This attention has prompted government agencies, utilities, and even private companies to dramatically increase resources for fire restoration.
White River National Forest in Colorado recently received more than $2 million for restoration work in the Grizzly Creek and Sylvan Fire burn areas. The funds are part of the Expanding Government Funding and Providing Emergency Assistance Act of 2021, which provided $85 million to the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region to recover and restore forests countries, watersheds and communities affected by the 2020 and 2021 wildfires.
Using funds from the Forest Service’s 10-Year Strategy to Address the Wildfire Crisis and Improve Forest Resilience, Umpqua National Forest in Oregon has partnered with the National Forest Foundation and the Arbor Day Foundation to plant 440,000 tree seedlings on the million-acre scorch scar left behind by the Labor Day fire.
But while the money is still good, with so much acreage affected (20,000 acres in the Umpqua National Forest have yet to be replaced), new tools are needed to have real impact. After the East Troublesome Fire tore through Colorado in 2021, crews used helicopters to reseed and mulch 5,000 acres in the Willow Creek Reservoir watershed.
In New Mexico, crews working on Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fire began post-fire erosion control even before the fire was fully contained.
In Arizona, a coalition of government agencies, nonprofits and businesses are working together to restore the scar left by the bushfire by rescuing cacti from construction sites and replanting them in affected areas.
At the University of California Riverside, ecologists are collaborating with the US Forest Service to develop chaparral shrub restoration strategies so that these biodiversity hotspots rebound with native plants after a fire. They also track the progress of burned coniferous forests that have been replanted with more drought-tolerant pine species that normally grow at lower, drier elevations.
To help with these replanting efforts, researchers from the New Mexico State University Center for Forestry Research saved valuable seeds used to rebuild resilient forests and created models that predict the best locations to plant trees. sowing after forest fires. Additionally, the state forestry division and several universities have submitted an $80 million proposal to the federal government for a reforestation pipeline that includes seed collection, seed sowing in nurseries, and location.
Of course, some landscapes are so irreparably altered that communities have no choice but to adapt. “Hayman is one of many examples we have in the western United States of these fires of around 2000 that really (the forest) are not coming back,” Camille Stevens-Rumann, assistant director of the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute…” But it’s really important to recognize that this is not a lost landscape. Grasslands or shrubs still have value. And it’s up to us to make sure it’s still of a healthy ecosystem, even if we cannot reforest all parts of it.
After the Caldor Fire destroyed five Sierra-at-Tahoe ski lifts in 2020, “we’re not dealing with a virgin forest anymore,” said John Rice, the resort’s general manager. “We have a scorched landscape, so how do we use the terrain and natural resources to create a ski product that will be next level for people?” Other wildfire-affected landscapes in California are experiencing a “gold rush” of morels that have a symbiotic relationship with burned trees. The influx of mushrooms creates a market for commercial and recreational hunters.