All of our large fires have occurred in the 21st century. Remember Spring Creek - 2018, Black Forest - 2013, Waldo Canyon - 2012, Hayman - 2002. By the middle of the century, mega-fires are expected to triple in frequency (https://climate.gov/news-features/event-tracker/colorado-summer-drought-wildfires-and-smoke-2020). At 640,000 acres/year, this could mean 6.4 million acres/decade. 3.1 million acres have already burned since 2001. With 24 million acres in Colorado forests, this burn rate may not be sustainable. Our children may well see a transformation of forests that evolved over ten thousand years.
Colorado Wildfires 2020 - map by wildfiretoday.com
Changing climate is a major factor in forest mortality. As of January 2021, 91% of the state is in severe or greater drought, with 73% of that in extreme drought and the other 27% in exceptional drought (see figure). This has been the driest year since 2012 and is on track to be the second driest in recorded history according to the Colorado Climate Center.
A related factor is the rise of bark beetle mortality that has killed or impacted over 21% of our forests and contributed to dry fuels. Most of our state-wide fuels are down to less than 5% moisture, and with red flag warnings, are a powder keg still waiting to burn.
Wild Connections is greatly concerned with protecting our forests and the watersheds, wildlife and quiet recreation they provide. As the landscape warms and dries, and wildfire and insect pests claim the forests, there are hidden places on the landscape that will stay cooler and wetter, in valleys, canyons and riparian areas. We have developed a Climate Corridors and Refugia model and maps that identify these places in our geographic area that must be protected to enable our ecosystems to persist or migrate. These refugia may one day, serve as seeds to restore ecosystems hanging in the balance.
WEEKLY DROUGHT MAP OCT 6, 2020
WEEKLY DROUGHT MAP JAN 15 2021 Note the expansion of severe and extreme areas. ColoradoDrought.gov
Wild Connections' mission is to identify, protect, and restore wildlands, native species, and biological diversity in the Arkansas and South Platte watersheds. They are the ancestral lands of the Ute, Cheyenne, Arapaho and other indigenous peoples.