Colorado’s forests contribute greatly to the state’s economic and social wellbeing. Covering about 24 million acres, they range from riparian habitat at 3,350 feet, dominated by plains cottonwoods, to spruce-fir forests growing up to about 12,000 feet. Colorado’s forests provide us with what we need to survive and thrive, including clean air and water, habitat for wildlife, forest products that support local economies, world-renowned recreation opportunities, and more. Like many other states, Colorado is facing challenges to its forests, including uncharacteristic wildfires, insect and disease outbreaks, and expansive population growth in the wildland-urban interface.
As stewards of the state’s forests, the Colorado State Forest Service and its partners produced the Colorado Forest Action Plan — a roadmap that guides forest management for the next decade. The plan provides an in-depth analysis and solutions to improve the health of Colorado’s forests and ensure they persevere – so our state continues to keep its “Colorful Colorado” nickname living strong.
Conserving our forests so the values they provide persevere
Forests provide important benefits to the residents and visitors of Colorado. Many forests in Colorado, however, are unhealthy, due in part to insect and disease outbreaks, longer and more severe wildfire seasons, conversion of forestland to other uses through development, and other factors. These threats to forest health are spurred by cumulative drought and warmer temperatures linked to climate change. Analysis in Colorado’s Forest Action Plan indicates 10 percent of Colorado’s forests are in urgent need of attention to address forest health, wildfire risk, and threats to water supplies.
To address these challenges, the Colorado State Forest Service is working with partners, stakeholders and residents to enhance forest health and resiliency using Colorado’s Forest Action Plan as a guide. The goal is to increase the pace and scale of forest management where it is most needed. Interactive maps and data to guide forest management in the state are available at coloradoforestatlas.org.
Protecting communities, watersheds, and wildlife habitat
Forests lie at the heart of our way of life in Colorado. Forested lands provide 80 percent of the state’s population with drinking water and habitat for Colorado’s charismatic wildlife. Many residents live in forested areas, with more than half of the state’s population residing in the wildland-urban interface as of 2017. Threats to forest health, such as uncharacteristic wildfire, place all this in jeopardy.
To protect our residents, water supplies and wildlife, the Colorado State Forest Service partners with forestland owners and land managers to reduce the risk of wildfire, insect outbreaks, and climate change impacts. Risk-reduction practices for homeowners and communities and adaptive forest management are necessary and must increase to meet the growing threats to forest health. Colorado’s Forest Action Plan offers guidance specific to managing forests for Living with Wildfire, Watershed Protection, and Forest Wildlife, including maps to help prioritize work in these focus areas.
Enhancing the forest products industry to support forest management
Important Colorado timber species include lodgepole pine, spruce, ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, true firs, and aspen. Recently, there has been a steep decline in the value of timber due to market conditions, widespread insect and disease infestations, and large wildfires. Additionally, the loss of harvesting and processing capacity has contributed to a declining contractor workforce. To meet future timber harvesting and forest management program needs in Colorado, mill and workforce capacity must be addressed, and new and emerging markets such as biochar and pellets should be promoted.
Best Management Practices
Colorado’s best management practices (BMPs) program is non-regulatory. The agency responsible for BMPs policy development is the Colorado State Forest Service.
Click here to view the most recent BMPs recommendations on the state forestry agency website.