Recent flights over Colorado’s historic Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fire burn scars revealed a troubling observation: Three years after the state’s largest wildfires scorched nearly 400,000 acres, nearly half of those acres are still so severely burned that little to no regrowth has taken place. That has caused concern among a cadre of local researchers from federal and state governmental agencies, Colorado State University, conservation groups and private industry studying the vast scar from 2020.
Sarah Beck, Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests fire recovery coordinator, said more precise aerial mapping of the scar will be forthcoming, but for now, large areas of the burn scar are not seeing expected revegetation recovery.
“These patches of high burn severity are so large there is a real possibility of recovery taking 50 years or longer,” she said. “It’s really concerning. I don’t think we have seen this in North America. I think this is a new condition in complexity.”
With the enormity and complexity of post-fire impacts still looming three years later to human safety, critical water supplies, recreational facilities and fish and wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service has begun a new approach. In August, it announced a partnership with the nonprofit conservation organization American Forests to develop a longer-term reforestation strategy for the burn scars. The planning will continue to be developed collaboratively with input from community-connected partners, research institutions and local and state agencies.
“The problem is really big, and it is not something we have the capacity to tackle alone,” Beck said.