Optimism for a greener future in the Hayman scar
- Created on Thursday, 12 April 2012 21:37
- Written by Scott Rappold
Mark Reis, The Gazette
BY R. SCOTT RAPPOLD
PIKE NATIONAL FOREST • In the hills laid to waste in 2002 by Colorado’s largest-ever wildfire, there are reasons for optimism the scorched landscape may someday be green again.
A million little reasons.
That’s how many seedlings of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir soon will be in the ground on 6,300 acres of the Hayman burn scar.
The trees planted since the blaze are growing, nonprofits and private organizations continue to fund the effort, and this month crews are planting 150,000 more seedlings, the most since the revegetation effort began in 2004, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
See photos of the Hayman burn area's recovery over about eight years (roughly 2004 to 2012).
“When I first got here, there was hardly anything across the landscape, in terms of any kind of vegetation,” said forester Chris Kuennen, part of the reforestation effort since 2005. “In the last three or four years, I’ve really seen an explosion of green. I’ve seen a lot more signs of deer and elk in this country over the last few years than in the first four or five (after the fire.)
“It shows that, at least on some level, the landscape is recovering.”
The fire occurred during a severe drought, sparked by a Forest Service employee. About half of the burn area is considered “severe,” meaning most trees and vegetation were destroyed.
Some 5,000 acres have begun to regenerate on their own. Shrubs and grasses cover the ground and aspens stand 15 feet tall. Some Ponderosa seedlings are 2 feet tall.
But there are still “major, major gaps of nothing,” areas with no surviving pines and firs to provide seeds. This is where crews are giving nature a kick-start.
Two dozen people are working near Westcreek, planting seedlings that were grown from local trees in a laboratory. The seedlings are planted in the shadow of dead trees or stumps, which provide shade and improve their chances of survival through the heat of summer.
Typically 70 percent to 85 percent of the seedlings survive the first three years.
Seeding costs up to $500 an acre. Nonprofits, including the Arbor Day Foundation and the National Forest Foundation, are helping to foot the bill.
The planting will continue as long as the Forest Service has donors to defray the cost.
Not that most of us will live to see the forest restored to its former state. At least 75 years will pass before the pines planted this spring bear seeds, and many more before the thick blanket of pines returns.
“It’s not going to close all the wounds up here …. But it’s at least a start to replenishing this landscape, and it might help with the healing process,” said Kuennen.
10th anniversary of Hayman
The Gazette is preparing a special report on the 10th anniversary of Colorado’s largest-ever wildfire. Were you personally impacted by the fire? Did the events of June 2002 change your life? Do you have strong memories you’d like to share?
Interested in learning more about the recovery effort in the Hayman burn area?
From our archives:
Restoring the Hayman burn scar, one creek at a time (Nov. 4, 2011)
There's still beauty in the Hayman fire burn area (June 15, 2011)
Go and be sheep, biologist tells bighorn released near Hayman burn area (Feb. 13, 2011)
Endangered butterfly on wings of recovery in Hayman fire area (Sept. 12, 2008)
Recovery in the Hayman burn area comes slowly (June 7, 2007)
Grass, brush, trees will start to poke through burned ‘wasteland’ (Dec. 14, 2005)
Ashes to Asters: Hayman fire recovery (Aug. 26, 2005)