Helping Forests Thrive through Prescribed Burns in Colorado

To revitalize Colorado’s overgrown forests, modern conservationists and scientists alike prescribe fire. Seemingly counterintuitive, prescribed or controlled burns can be, in fact, a critical strategy in promoting the health and livelihood of forests, restoring habitat and reducing the mounting risk of extreme, uncontrolled and devastating wildfires. Fire naturally facilitates the ecosystem and historically has maintained a delicate ecological balance across many regions.

The Nature Conservancy, a long-time partner of The Moore Charitable Foundation, specializes in restoring the role of fire in varied landscapes across the United States. In the organization’s words, “Forest fires and prairie fires are a part of nature; they are both powerful change agents that shape ecosystems.” However, climate change has taken its toll on these natural fires. They now burn much hotter and much longer; and with excess fuel or brush on the ground, the forests have become their own tinder boxes. To combat this threat, experts advocate small, prescribed burns, which can mitigate the severity of wildfires, both in scope and in frequency.

Planning a prescribed burn is a laborious, but serious process. Even after months of preparation and planning, teams must wait for the perfect conditions to begin a burn. At the slightest sign of wind or excess heat, the burn must be postponed. Yet, in any case, this long process is a small price to pay— controlled burns are a far better alternative to an uninhibited disaster.

At the moment, two Trinchera Blanca Foundation partners, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) and the Wilderness Workshop, are proposing a prescribed burn in Colorado’s Hunter Creek Valley. This comes as opposition to a years-long ban of prescribed fires in Colorado. According to Will Roush, Conservation Director at the Wilderness Workshop, “The goal of the prescribed burn is to improve wildlife habitat, restore the historical fire regime and decrease the risk from a catastrophic wildfire.”

Not only does this prescribed burn hope to re-establish equilibrium in the Hunter Creek Valley, but it also aims to educate and engage the greater community on the issue. With the success of this operation, the community can better understand the importance of a prescribed burn as it pertains to reducing fuel in the area and increasing the ecosystem’s resilience. As it stands, many are hesitant about deliberately bringing danger to the region, yet when they see the benefits materialize, they will likely become more open to a program of burn treatments in the future.

With smart planning and a bit of faith, prescribed burns can become the norm again and save these habitats from future threats of wildfire.