Study Identifies Key Barriers to Wildfire Recovery
A new report outlines key barriers to recovering forests in Colorado and across the U.S.
Massive wildfires in the Rocky Mountains since the 1990s have left large patches of previously foreste landscape barren, with few if any older, cone-bearing trees surviving.
Teresa Chapman, GIS manager for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado and the report's co-author, said a coordinated effort to harvest seeds is just one step to reaching reforestation goals.
"We are right now at risk of losing hundreds of thousands of acres of forest, in extreme events such as wildfires, that aren't naturally recovering," Chapman reported. "And we have to take an active role in recovering these areas."
Collecting pine cones during mass seeding seasons once every five to ten years is a key part of the reforestation pipeline in Colorado.
Nationally, researchers say an additional 1.7 billion seedlings are needed to restore just half of lands available for reforestation by 2040.
Greater investment also is needed for seed storage, tree-nursery expansion, workforce development and improved planting practices.
In addition to the value wooded areas provide for Colorado's outdoor-recreation economy, healthy forest ecosystems filter and keep water clean, and provide critical wildlife habitat.
Chapman noted large-scale reforestation efforts can also help the U.S. reach its climate goals, because trees act as natural carbon-capture solutions.
"Trees help mitigate greenhouse gases by taking in carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and storing it in their woody biomass," Chapman explained.
Chapman's team is experimenting with ways to plant trees in remote areas far from roads and with flexibility to take advantage of ideal weather conditions.
Chapman added seeds encased in nutrient-rich clay, with some added cayenne pepper to discourage small mammals from eating them, could be delivered in high volumes to scarred landscapes by drone.