A recent study from the University of Colorado Boulder found that forests in the southern Rocky Mountains are becoming less resilient in the wake of wildfires.
“In the last fifty years, fires have, on average, become larger. And with larger fires, we have larger areas that are tree-less,” said the lead author of the study Kyle Rodman.
Rodman, who finished his PhD at UC last year, said that while wildfires have historically played a crucial role in forest health, climate change and extreme drought are impacting forests in the southern Rockies like those that were burned in the Grizzly Creek Fire.
“Fire in and of itself isn’t really unique or new, but the key thing is that the ability of forests to respond to these events is changing,” Rodman said.
Rodman said the resilience of the forests around Glenwood Canyon will depend on three main factors: how hot the fire burned in different areas, the type of vegetation that was there before the fire, and how easy it is for plants to grow back based on temperature and moisture.
In a place like Grizzly Creek, Rodman said he would expect to see a pretty wide range of responses to the fire because of the area's varied elevation and topography.
“You have some really deep valley bottoms that get a lot of moisture from the surrounding area and then you have some really high dry ridge tops,” he said.
Rodman said in the coming years, some areas will likely resprout as Gambel oak and aspen, while some places might convert to grassland and shrubland. Others will probably recover to forests as well.
Once fire crews wrap up their work on the fire, Rodman said the U.S. Forest Service will collaborate with local groups to stabilize soils and plant trees, among other restoration projects.
As of Sept. 21, the Grizzly Creek Fire that sparked on Aug. 10, remains at 32,431 acres and is 91% percent contained.