By Jim Benemann
LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)– Some 200,00 acres of Colorado forest have already burned this summer. The grim news has many of us who enjoy the backcountry wondering what those lands will look like in the future.
Not to worry, says an expert with the Colorado State Forest Service. CBS4’s Jim Benemann spent time with Boyd Lebeda in the area of the High Park Fire in Larimer County in 2012. It was massive, destroying 259 homes and taking one life. But six years later, the burn scar is showing encouraging signs of new life.
“The forest is an adaptive eco-system. It’s burned before and it will burn again. It’s remarkably resilient. Many people say wildfires destroy forestland. I prefer to say they just set it up for its next life,” said Lebeda.
Lebeda was at the scene during the High Park Fire, helping marshall resources with his keen knowledge of the terrain.
Benemann asked if it was hard to watch the fire play out, he responded, “In a sense, yes. But it’s also a natural process of the forests. This land will look different in the future, but there will be recovery.”
Aspen tress are big winners after a fire. When the mature ones burned, it stimulated the roots systems to sprout new aspen. Wildflowers and shrubs, once choked out by the tree shade, are now thriving in the sunshine. The acreage we walked is managed by CSU foresters. They’re planting lodgepole and ponderosa pine to compliment what nature is springing up on its own.
It’s remarkable to see the diversity of the plant life now. And new plant life means wildlife are gradually moving back into the area to see what’s on the menu. Lebeda showed many small trees that are showing signs of accelerated growth over the past year.
“That’s always a good sign. It tells us the tree is getting enough moisture and getting established,” said Lebeda.
What we can’t predict is how a warming climate and drier conditions going forward will impact the forests of the future. However, Lebeda is confident that, while different, these special places will still be places of beauty and solitude.
– Visit CBSDenver.com’s Colorado Wildfire section.
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Jim Benemann is a longtime anchor at CBS4. He’s coming up on 40 years in the TV news business and loves reporting on the stories Coloradans are talking about. Send him your story ideas and follow Jim on Twitter @jimbcbs4.