New Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests

A new report on the health of Colorado’s forests, released this week, shows that the number of dead standing trees in Colorado forests is an estimated 834 million trees—or nearly one in every 14 standing trees.

Michael Lester, Colorado State Forester and chair of the Council of Western State Foresters, opens this report with an illustrative letter on wildfire and water in the forest and their impacts on ecology and infrastructure. The paper includes detailed updates on wildfire, insects and disease, and water supplies within the state. 

“When so many trees die and large wildfires follow, our forests quickly turn from a carbon sink into a carbon source,” said Lester. “Beyond the implications for our atmosphere, forests in poor health have implications for our water supplies, public safety, wildlife and recreation opportunities.”

Other highlights from this year’s report include:

  • Colorado’s decades-long mountain pine beetle epidemic resulted in almost 3.4 million acres with some degree of tree mortality; an ongoing spruce beetle epidemic has thus far resulted in 1.7 million impacted acres.
  • Approximately 80 percent of the state’s population relies on forested watersheds for municipal water supplies.
  • Risks ranging from severe wildfires and insect infestations to long-term droughts are likely to be amplified in the future, as climate model projections predict statewide warming between 2.5 F and 6.5 F by 2050.

“With increasing changes in our forests, now is the time for determining how we will manage for projected future conditions," Lester said.


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