Fireshed Field Tour Recap: Partnering for More Resilient Forests
Photo: Fireshed partners and community members gather to learn about forest restoration work at the Shambhala Mountain Center. (Jake Marlow)
Last week, on a beautifully clear and crisp fall day within the Poudre River Watershed, members of the Northern Colorado Fireshed Collaborative (Fireshed) stepped away from their Zoom rooms to gather for a field tour at the Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC) near Red Feather Lakes. With more than 20 guests in attendance, including staff from the USFS, the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed (CPRW), Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS), Colorado Forest Restoration Institute (CFRI), Fort Collins & Big Thompson Conservation Districts, The Ember Alliance, Larimer County Office of Emergency Management, Colorado State Forest Service and Poudre Canyon Fire Protection District, the tour presented an opportunity for Fireshed partners to share success stories and discuss the many challenges we all face in our efforts to increase wildfire mitigation work across a landscape scale. Special guests in attendance included Larimer County Commissioners John Kefalas and Jody Shadduck-McNally.
The 600-acre SMC property provided an excellent example of the positive outcomes strategic forest treatments can produce. Because of the 165-acre fuels reduction treatment completed on the property in 2018, as well as several years of adjacent treatments continuing along Elkhorn Creek to the east, firefighters working on the Cameron Peak Fire of 2020 were safer, the forest burned less intensely in this area, and post-fire outcomes were less severe.
Representatives from Fort Collins Conservation District (FCCD) and leadership from the SMC spoke to the importance of working together to respect landowner needs and values while improving forest health and reducing wildfire risk. The forest restoration work at SMC also helped to facilitate important cross-boundary collaboration in the area – a hallmark of the Fireshed’s forest restoration strategy across the Front Range of Colorado.
The discussion covered a variety of themes, from the value of building relationships with the community to the need to share risks among partners and the importance of collaboration for achieving strategic, desired outcomes on the landscape. It was an opportunity to share Fireshed successes, like how increasing our coordinated notifications about slash pile burns helped reduce reported complaints, and how the USFS is adapting its approach to working in concert with partners.
It was also an opportunity to highlight some challenges and discuss solutions with the County Commissioners. Participants discussed the need for more operational capacity, noting the lack of private contractors needed to help facilitate fuels reduction work. Linked to this was a discussion of the need to increase demand for wood products to decrease treatment costs by incentivizing mill capacity in Larimer County. Larimer County Commissioners Kefalas and Shadduck-McNally both shared in these concerns and identified a few potential avenues for developing solutions and increasing engagement with the Fireshed.
Cameron Peak Fire recovery efforts (and associated costs) were also discussed. While the FCCD’s work at the SMC provides a great example of positive outcomes, the Cameron Peak Fire as a whole was a stark reminder of what remains to be done. There is a broad recognition among Fireshed members that, while we still have a lot of work to do on the landscape, the Fireshed has helped build collaborative relationships and strengthened those that already exist.